Mountain Town News: Global warming may cause moose to freeze (column)

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

JACKSON, Wyo. – Global warming might cause moose to freeze to death in Yellowstone National Park.

As explained in Headwaters, a special environmental supplement to the Jackson Hole News&Guide, moose populations in Jackson Hole have declined significantly in recent years, as they have across the northern United States. The reason for the decline is complicated. Wolves have taken moose, and grizzly bears have been expanding their presence.

But climate could be the biggest challenge. Part of the problem is ticks. A moose with too many of the parasites during the winter can lose its hair and freeze to death.

“Winter ticks are exacerbated by shorter winters and earlier springs,” Alyson Courtemanch, a wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Fish & Game Department, explained. “Deep freezes can kill the ticks or knock back the tick populations.”

On the other hand, warm springs allow ticks to drop off onto dirt instead of snow. There, the ticks stand a better chance of laying eggs and reproducing. This year had a warm spring and next winter more moose will have ticks.

In general, moose are simply better adapted to colder temperatures. When it’s too warm, they spend more time in the shade trying to cool down and less time feeding, Courtemanch said.

“The warmer winters and warmer summers are incredibly stressful to them,” she said. “They’re so heat-stressed all the time. It cascades into poor body condition for females, and that impacts their ability to have a calf. They are so stressed they can’t put on enough weight every year.”

Glacier snowmaking at Whistler a failure

WHISTLER, B.C. – An effort to stem the decline of Horstman Glacier at Whistler Blackcomb by making snow has failed. “It’s too difficult with the wind,” explained Arthur De Jong, the resort’s manager of mountain planning and environmental resources.

Horstman Glacier, located high on the ski mountain, is used by the resort for skiing far into summer. Last year, Whistler Blackcomb decided to augment the glacier’s snow in October to compensate for the summer losses.

The big picture at Whistler in recent decades has been more snow on top the mountain, more rain at the bottom and more intense summer heat that is causing glaciers there and elsewhere along the coastal range in British Columbia to shrink. This year was no exception, De Jong tells the Pique Newsmagazine.

Charismatic microfauna threatened by warming

WEST GLACIER, Mont. – Maybe you’ve heard of charismatic megafauna? That’s the phrase sometimes used to describe wolves, grizzly bears and even wolverines.

Well, how about charismatic microfauna? That’s how aquatic entomologist Joe Giersch, somewhat tongue in cheek, describes two species of stoneflies that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last week proposed adding to the federal government’s list of threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

Giersch told the Flathead Beacon that the stoneflies are endangered by warming temperatures in their ecological niche in high-alpine melt-water streams in Glacier National Park. In other words, he said, they are the poster-bugs of global warming.

Clint Muhlfeld, a research ecologist at the USGS Northern Rockies Science Center in Glacier Park, said the proposed listing of the stoneflies as threatened is significant, and could mark the beginning of a cascade of species being listed with climate change as the most significant threat.

“These species are the only other species that I’m aware of that may be listed under the ESA due to climate change impacts, other than the polar bear,” he said. “They are the polar bears of Glacier National Park.

“Also, more importantly, there will be winners and some losers as impending climate change and glacier loss unfold,” he continued. “But these species are indicative of an entire ecosystem under threat due to climate warming.”

The sun explains only small part of warming

DURANGO, Colo. – There’s disagreement about what is causing temperatures to warm globally. Some say it’s because of the sun. Gary Rottman, writing in the Durango Herald, says they’re wrong. “I can tell you categorically that is not true,” he writes.

Rottman explains that he capped his 35-year career at the University of Colorado Boulder with participation in a study of solar radiation by satellite. The monitoring continues.

“Google it if you like. The best minds studying the solar-terrestrial connection believe no more than 15 percent of global warming is attributable to the sun,” he says.

Rottman also notes that 15 of the 16 hottest years ever recorded occurred since 2000, and this year is set to break all records.

In Montana, a Brit who has made a name for himself as what many call a “climate-science denier” had a crowd of 130 at an event in Kalispell.

“You don’t have to worry about the cuddly polar bear. They are going to be just fine,” Christopher Monckton said to laughter and applause, according to a report in the Flathead Beacon. He went on to say that global warming, “will not affect us for the next 2,000 years, and if it does, it won’t have been caused by us. And I therefore declare the climate scare officially over.”

County shows interest in break for coal mine

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. – Like most coal companies, Peabody Energy has been having troubles because of lower-priced natural gas, plunging prices of renewables and increased enforcement of laws to protect air quality. In April, Peabody had to dive into bankruptcy protection.

That’s a concern in Routt County. Despite the two ski areas in Steamboat, Peabody’s Twentymile Mine is the biggest taxpayer and has the largest single payroll in Routt County.

Recently, the county treasurer, Brita Horn, met with Peabody officials to talk terms about Peabody’s payment of $1.8 million in overdue taxes. Horn reads the law to say that Peabody has to pay interest on the overdue taxes.

But Routt County commissioners pushed back when told of the county treasurer’s plans, reports the Steamboat Pilot & Today. Cari Hermacinski, a former Steamboat Springs council president and now a county commissioner, pointed out that the monthly interest is $18,000. She wants the coal mine relieved of having to pay interest on its delinquent taxes. Other commissioners seemed to agree.

One commissioner suggested working with Colorado Counties Inc. to seek legislation that would alleviate companies emerging from bankruptcy from having to pay interest on their overdue taxes.

Why not a buffalo mountain in Banff?

BANFF, Alberta – A proposal is afoot to give Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park a new name: Sacred Buffalo Guardian Mountain. The Rocky Mountain Outlook supports the change.

There’s no tunnel in the mountain, and it wasn’t named after a family named Tunnel. So why not rename the mountain, says the paper. It would be a nod to indigenous peoples but also in accord with the reintroduction of bison to Banff National Park next year.

Crested Butte plans winter fat biking trails

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – The community is rallying behind winter fat biking in Crested Butte. The Fat Bike World Championships last winter were a success, and now the local mountain bike association wants to groom 37 miles of trail for winter use by the über-sized tires.

“We are leading other resorts with this growing sport,” said Dave Ochs, director of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association. “People like (to do) more than skiing. They like winter adventures. We are a bike culture community. Let’s make it a great winter amenity.”

Council members agreed to endorse the proposal, the Crested Butte News reports.

Pushing back against busy Tahoe summers

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. – There’s pushback at Lake Tahoe to the busyness of this past summer. “We’ve had jam-packed beach and bumper-to-bumper traffic like I’ve never seen, with cars parked and people crawling along the East Shore like ants,” writes Carolyn Allfree of Incline Village in the Sierra Sun.

“It’s been impossible for locals to enjoy their backyard. A mid-week or offseason slowdown is a welcome relief,” she adds. She says she’s in no mood to see expansion of tourism in the basin, including the proposed Diamond Peak summer activities that would include a zip line and “who knows what?”

In Colorado, town officials in Breckenridge are trying to sort out the disputed effects of a Mountain Arts festival. The festival has been held since 1982, and it has expanded along the way to require use of the parking lots. But gallery owners say the arts festival does them no good. The end-of-July festival this year drew 20,000 people, reports the Summit Daily News.

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