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Mountain News: Resort struggles with Internet rentals



SANTA FE, N.M. — Santa Fe, the capital city of New Mexico and cultural trend setter, has been struggling with the surge of short-term rentals through the Internet.

The city of 70,000 people capped the number of short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods at 400 and each unit can be rented no more than 17 times a year.

But as in other towns and cities, the restrictions have been widely ignored. One analysis indicated at least 1,000 additional units were being rented though Airbnb, HomeAway, Craigslist, and other popular Internet sites, reported the Santa Fe New Mexican. They do not pay taxes, part of which are used to pay off debt on the city's convention center and to promote tourism. Nor do they undergo annual inspections by city staff.

With the genie out of the bottle, the city planning staff thinks it's unreasonable to try to completely clamp down now. The staff proposed instead to allow another 600 units in residential areas — but step up enforcement.

The New Mexican reports opinions all over the map, including people who don't' want to see their neighbours becoming de facto motel operators.

Very strange case of breaking and entering

HAILEY, Idaho — Just after midnight, on New Year's Eve, a family near Hailey — about 16 kilometres from the Sun Valley ski area — awoke to a clatter in the basement of the ranch-style house.

It was an elk, announced the father after investigation. The children, ages four and six, were put into a room, and the wildlife officers and sheriff's deputies who soon arrived devised a strategy. The only way for the elk to get out was to go up the stairs, through the house and out the door. Appropriating mattresses, they created a corridor, both to protect themselves and to guide the elk.

The frightened elk didn't take the hint very well. Five times they tried and the elk, scared out of its wits, did nothing. Shoot the thing and drag it out?

Finally, the elk bolted up the stairs and out the door. Authorities told the Idaho Mountain Express that the elk destroyed rugs and furniture, mostly because of glass shards and urine.

So far, it's the snowiest winter in five years in the Sun Valley area, and elk have been descending to the valley bottom. Some 13 elk have died from eating poisonous yew plants in the Hailey Cemetery and other locations.

Enough grizzlies to start hunting them?

BOZEMAN, Mont. — Strictly by the numbers, grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem have been doing well. Good enough to remove protections from the Endangered Species Act? Well, that's a point to be discussed, explained the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

In 1975, when the species was listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, there were just 150 grizzlies in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent areas. At last count, there were 717. Another large population can be found along the Continental Divide in northern Montana, plus smaller populations at several other locations in Idaho, Montana and Washington state.

At least in Yellowstone, the government considers the recovery a success and has proposed to delist the species from protection.

Environmental groups, however, see a less certain future for grizzlies. The grizzly are what is called "opportunistic omnivores," meaning they eat whatever they can find, some 250 types of food from moths to pine cones to elk calves, depending upon the time of year and the food availability.

Whitebark pine trees can be found in cold, high-elevation places in western North America, their seeds providing high-calorie meals for grizzly bears putting on weight to survive hibernation.

The species of tree, however, also became a candidate for endangered species listing in 2011, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the whitebark pine is in "an overall long-term pattern of decline across the range." Warming temperatures have been implicated.

The upshot? Researchers, explained the Daily Chronicle, have been shifting their diet from whitebark pine to what Frank van Manen, leader of the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team, called "animal matter."

Bonnie Rice, of the Sierra Club, said more meat-eating by grizzlies will cause them to kill more livestock or elk, a big-game hunting species. That puts the grizzly in conflict with the numero uno predator of the food chain: humans.

Wildlife managers in Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana are more eager than anyone to see a delisting proposal. "States and communities have little incentive to support species recovery if success does not end ESA constraints and return species to state management," said a letter sent by the three states to the federal wildlife agency last August.

Ken McDonald, of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, said delisting would gives states more management flexibility — including the ability to hunt. McDonald told the Daily Chronicle that wildlife managers hope hunting would teach the bears to stay away from high-conflict areas.

Electrical co-op defends move into broadband

TAOS, N.M. — There's controversy in Taos, where electrical provider Kit Carson Electric — a member of a family of rural electrical co-operatives in Colorado, Nebraska, and Wyoming — has strained finances.

Kit Carson is asking for a rate increase, but critics think the co-operative has lost sight of its core mission. In addition to distributing electricity, in years past it got into the business of selling propane. More recently, it has been installing broadband cable.

Luis Reyes, chief executive of the co-op, told the Taos News that electric ratepayers have put $2.6 million into the fiber-optic network so far, and it could take $7 or $8 million more to finish. He insists that the rate increase is in no way related to the broadband initiative.

The federal government awarded Kit Carson a $4 million grant and a $19 million loan in 2010 as part of the recovery stimulus to build the fiber-optic network across its service area, which includes several ski areas: Taos Ski Valley, Red River, and Angel Fire.

Reyes is bullish on the broadband, which he described as a major economic driver for the region. He argued that the co-op is the only entity making real progress in economic development. And with most of the project subsidized by the federal government, he said the network is a can't-miss investment that could revolutionize the local economy. He expects it to be in the black by mid-2017.