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Mountain News: Turner loses agricultural status for ranch



TAOS, N.M. — Ted Turner will have to pay $90,000 more in property taxes on that portion of his Vermejo Park Ranch located in New Mexico's Taos County, and Turner's representatives say it's unfair.

The half-million acre sprawl across northern New Mexico and into Colorado. The Taos News notes that the website for the ranch describes it as Turner's only property that operates as a full-service guest ranch.

The assessor for Taos County has concluded that because it's not a working ranch, it should not get the lower rate given to agricultural properties.

Leslie Dhaseleer, the natural resources manager for Vermejo Park, protested that the forests on the ranch are still recovering from "aggressive over-harvesting by the previous owner, Pennzoil, between 1974 and 1984."

In the letter cited by the Taos News, Dhaseleer wrote that the ranch is implementing various treatments to reduce the damage to the watershed from possible wildfire, increase forage for bison, and pursuing other goals of ecosystem restoration.

Heat, dust causes earlier runoff in the Rockies

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Jim Schmidt has been in Crested Butte since 1976, and he says that in the last 15 years or so, there has been a clear difference in the weather.

It's warmer in winter, with fewer of the 30-below temperatures. But the sharper difference is in the shoulder seasons, spring and fall. There's more rain and less snow. And if the snow arrives, it melts.

"It was 69 degrees here yesterday," he said one day last week, as the East River ran full of runoff.

Partly because of warm weather, the river volume during April was third highest in 92 years of records. Frank Kugel, director of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, tells the Crested Butte News that the inflow to Blue Mesa Reservoir was 167 per cent of average during April.

But there's something else going on. Dust storms have been blowing in. Bill Trampe, a local rancher between Crested Butte and Gunnison, tells Mountain Town News that spring dust storms always occurred, but he believes that they have become more intense in recent years.

"It was bad, real bad," said John McClow, an attorney for the water district after a storm in late April.

Schmidt said the snowpack around Crested Butte has turned salmon colored. He also remembers skiing on dusty snow 20 to 25 years ago. "It was like skiing on sandpaper," he says.

"But I only remember that happening once, and that was made in the first 15 years (I was here). Now it seems to be happening almost every year that we're getting a fair amount of dust."

Scientific investigations during the past decade focused in the San Juan Mountains between Telluride and Silverton have concluded that the dust causes the melting of the snow to accelerate. Also, because of the accelerated melting, more of the water is lost to evaporation through a process called sublimation.

The dust comes primarily from deserts of the Southwest, and the evidence suggests this is due to the activities of humans.

Hydrogen story differs for California and B.C.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — California is eagerly putting in the pieces of a hydrogen highway. But in British Columbia, at least in Whistler, the hydrogen experiment has not worked out so well.

The California Energy Commission has announced it will invest $46.6 million to accelerate the development of public hydrogen fueling stations throughout California. The goal is to promote a consumer market for zero-emission fuel-cell vehicles, which could be widely available as early as next year, notes The Sacramento Bee.

Although most of the stations will be in Southern California or in the Bay Area, a few locations will be more inland. One of them is at Truckee, located along Interstate 80 on the way to Lake Tahoe.

Hydrogen-fuelled buses were also a large part of the fanfare about the 2010 Winter Olympics. But the investment of nearly $90 million in Whistler buses has been yanked.

The hydrogen for the buses in Whistler was created by hydropower in Quebec then hauled across Canada by truck. Even so, it was a net gain for greenhouse gas reduction.

But the buses struggled in cold months. Water in the fuel cells froze and prevented the buses from starting or running efficiently.

Railroad depot may be moved to Granby

GRANBY, Colo. — A railroad arrived in Granby in 1904, creating the town and serving as a way to ferry vacationers to Grand Lake, at what is now the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park. The depot might seem the logical place to celebrate that railroading history, but the original is long gone.

So how about bringing in a depot from elsewhere? That's the plan, according to the Sky Hi News. It seems that all the drilling activity north of Denver has resulted in plans to scrape and trash an old railroad depot that was built in 1901 to assist in the sugar-beet farming near Loveland.

David Naples, president of the Moffat Road Railroad Museum Board of Directors, says his organization can afford to dismantle the depot near Loveland and have it hauled across the Continental Divide to Granby. But his group will have to pass the hat and then some to come up with the $120,000 to pour a new concrete slab and otherwise make the old depot usable in Granby.

It's still cheaper than building a replica depot from scratch. "It has all the correct architectural structure of a 1900 depot, and you can't do that cheaply anymore," he says.

Monsanto money for Ideas Festival

ASPEN, Colo. — In organizing conferences, where do you draw the line in lining up sponsors?

That's the question being asked in Aspen, where the Aspen Institute is selling tickets for the annual 10-day talkathon called the Ideas Festival.

The festival in late June and early July has everybody from Al Gore to Tony Blair to Newt Gingrich, to pick three politicians out of the speakers' hat, as well as columnists for the New York Times, Katie Couric, chief executives, and scores of others who will talk about health care, global dynamics, and creativity, among other topics.

"We'll have writers and musicians and architects, but also mathematicians and neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists talking about this whole notion of the creative enterprise," said Kitty Boone, vice president of public programs.

The Aspen Daily News points out that Monsanto is among the sponsors, The company has been controversial due to its history as a developer of Agent Orange, DDT, and genetically modified crops.

The Aspen Institute takes the position that "corporations are incredibly important to American society, and we owe them the opportunity to explain themselves," according to Boone.

She also notes that the Environmental Defense Fund is a sponsor this year, as is the Gates Foundation, and Mount Sinai Hospital, among others.

Opera lover gets more Prison time

BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — Alberto Vilar's name graces the majestic Vilar Center for the Performing Arts in Beaver Creek, the result of his significant donations.

His philanthropy across the world, especially to opera, was legendary. So was his fall from grace, when he stole up to $40 million to further allow his lavish lifestyle and honour his pledges. All of this was recounted in a New Yorker profile several years ago.

But the story is not getting any better for Vilar. The Vail Daily reports that Vilar, 73, was resentenced to 10 years in prison, a year longer than his original sentence. A U.S. district court judge in New York City said a longer term was justified because Vilar had taken steps to prevent victims of his crimes from being repaid.

Gary Tanaka, Vilar's business partner at the now-defunct Amerindo Investment Advisors, was also sentenced to a longer term.

Vilar had been convicted in 2008 of securities fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. He has served four years and, given the extension, now has six more years to go.

new species of diatom at Teton lake

JACKSON, Wyo. — There is something new under the Teton sun. A nurse from Jackson Hole, backpacking in the Grand Teton National Park last summer, took a water sample from a lake at 2,987 metres that contained a previously unidentified species of diatom.

A diatom is a type of single-celled phytoplankton that photosynthesizes but isn't quite a plant. The new species is called Muelleria tetonensis, and you need a microscope to identify the "larger valves and lower stria density" that distinguishes it from a Muelleria gibbula.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide says the nurse, Beverly Boynton, doubles as a citizen scientist.

Parks Canada misses the boat on caribou?

BANFF, Alberta — Mountain caribou are endangered in Banff and Jasper National parks, and the Rocky Mountain Outlook believes there's something deeply troubling about that.

"Banff, the birthplace of Canada's national park system, should not be identified as an area where a species has disappeared from the landscape," the newspaper editorializes.

In all fairness, caribou numbers are on the slide everywhere in Alberta and British Columbia, but also Yukon and the Northwest Territories.

But the newspaper thinks that Parks Canada may have its priorities out of place. "Surely, not allowing a caribou herd to disappear should have been deemed as important as the creation of new special events to attract more visitors within a national park," it says.