News » Mountain News

Mountain News:

Can recreation and conservation coexist?


Compiled by Allen Best

RADIUM HOT SPRINGS, B.C. — Some 200 people from 27 nations gathered in the Columbia River Valley for the Living Lakes Conference. Among other things, they talked about whether the booming recreation industry can co-exist with conservation of wilderness.

Peter Robinson, the CEO of Mountain Equipment Co-Op, identified two major trends. First is the surge of day-oriented trips in everything from whitewater rafting to snowboarding, climbing, rail biking, and mountain biking.

"Day-oriented trips are front country, lightly equipped, back in your own bed by evening, breakfast at your own home. The consequence of this change is that urban front country and surrounding wild lands are seeing increased use," said Robinson.

The second major trend is toward increased accessibility. "Due to logging roads, seismic lines, Sea-doos, ATVs and helicopters, no place is now inaccessible," he said.

"Thirty years ago we didn’t see Sea-doos, heli-skiing, Zodiac whale watching, four-wheel-drive ATVs, golf courses in ski areas, or adventure racing – that’s how fast this is happening," he said. "Entire communities are now retooling their entire economic system from a resource to a tourism business," he said. But while whale watching has exploded, for example, the population of killer whales has dropped 20 per cent in only seven years.

Conservation and recreation industries can co-exist, said Robinson, but the real question is under what conditions? He calls for an ethic among recreation businesses to put back into the environment what they take out, a notion advanced by others, including Yvon Chouinard at Patagonia.

Robinson also called for more emphasis on self-propelled or human-powered recreation. "And with all due respect to ATVs, helicopters, gondolas, Sea-doos, and cars, mechanized action is tourism, not recreation," he said.

The government needs to resist the urge to treat recreational lands like they are commodities, and instead adopt the concept of minimizing the impact of human activity on backcountry and sensitive marine areas.

"If current patterns don’t change, we won’t achieve the goal of leaving the next generation with an environment as healthy, diverse, and productive as we enjoy." he concluded.

Snow hosts given the boot

GOLDEN, B.C. — Some 20 volunteer snow hosts at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort have lost their non-paying jobs. The resort has opted to give the jobs to ski school members.

The main reason for the shift is that if the volunteer host gets hurt while leading a tour, he or she could sue the resort, because hosts are not covered by workers’ compensation or insurance.

This, reports the Golden Star, has not gone over well with the volunteers, who think Kicking Horse is using the issue as an excuse. After all they point out, Fernie and Lake Louise continue to have volunteers as tour guides. The newspaper says that resort administrators plan a basic proficiency course for snow hosts, but does not explain what exactly this means.

Alberta provides land

CANMORE, Alberta — The provincial government in Alberta is giving Canmore 16 acres of land to be used for affordable housing. The agreement first provides five acres for rental apartments, half of which must be kept at below market rates for 20 years. The land can then be leveraged into creating more affordable housing.

The details of the deal remain obscure, and the Rocky Mountain Outlook was markedly suspicious. "Maybe this is the best deal ever bestowed upon this cash-strapped, over-inflated municipality," said the newspaper. "Sure would be nice to know."

Stubbornness costing Telluride

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Owners of private land both immediately east and west of Telluride wanted to develop, and in both cases the town said heck no. Now, says Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch, the chickens from those inflexible, unyielding decisions are coming home to roost.

On the east side, where the box canyon sweeps toward majestic Ingram Falls, the Idarado Mining Co. wanted to do some high-end housing development in exchange for open space dedication and affordable housing. The town said no, but now it will have to come up with millions – for affordable housing and for open space preservation – that it could have gotten for free.

Add to that the cost of preserving land on the west side of town at $25 to $50 million, another $8 million to pave the highway that leads into Telluride, water system repairs – well, you get the idea. Telluride, suggests Cagin, is up the financial creek without a paddle.

Aspen, Vail see eye to eye

ASPEN, Colo. — It’s rare that the Aspen Skiing Co. and Vail Resorts Inc. see eye to eye on anything. A ballot initiative before Colorado voters provides one of those rare opportunities.

The initiative would mandate that utility companies increase their sale of energy from renewable sources to 10 per cent of their total portfolios. Generating electricity by trapping the energy of wind is currently becoming comparable with the cost of electricity generated by burning coal.

Both Vail Resorts and Aspen Skiing have been buying wind-generated electricity for several years. Aspen ties its support directly to the prospect of global warming. Vail is more hesitant about that link, but instead talks about clean air. Vail spends about $3 million annually in electricity and other utility costs and expects that to increase if the initiative passes, as polls suggest it will.

The third major ski company in Colorado, Intrawest, had not taken a stance as of early October.

Less cloud-seeding

SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — Denver Water has spent $1.1 million on cloud-seeding during the last two winters, but it will not this winter. The city’s utility department draws water from Winter Park and Summit County.

The Summit Daily News reports that the Breckenridge ski area is talking about paying for a cloud-seeding program. The only sure-fire cloud-seeder along the I-70 corridor is Vail, which has seeded winter clouds since 1978. Crested Butte is also being seeded this winter.

War on Drugs bestows $1.4 million

KETCHUM, Idaho — The War on Drugs has bestowed $1.4 million on police in Ketchum and Blaine County. The money may be used for such things as more investigations of illegal drug trafficking or even a new civic centre – as long as it has space for police.

The Idaho Mountain Express explains that the money comes from the U.S. Department of Justice. Beginning in the 1970s, two brothers based in Hawaii had smuggled marijuana from Thailand. The operation spanned the globe, with cases from Switzerland to Bali to Hong Kong. The men funnelled the money into shell corporations in the United States and elsewhere, which in turn invested in real estate and stocks. Among those investments were $250,000 in a Ketchum business called the Lift Haven Inn.

That same investigation ended in guilty pleas from a number of other defendants, including five involved in the construction and operation of the Sun Valley Athletic Club in Ketchum.

A global warming resolution

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — County commissioners in Teton County have unanimously passed a resolution that urges residents to help reduce global warming.

The resolution does not point to any specific regulations or strategies, but one of the commissioners, Andy Schwartz, who is running for re-election on the platform of sustainability, said that perhaps the county can prohibit its employees from leaving county vehicles idling.

The resolution, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide, asks residents to educate themselves about global warming and take action. States the resolution: "The overwhelming body of independent scientific evidence shows that global warming has been created, at least in part, by human activity, and is clearly exacerbated by such activity."

Meanwhile, U.S. representatives are scheduled to meet in Jackson Hole with Chinese representatives to talk about clean air initiatives. The session is being organized by the new Jackson Hole Center for Global Affairs.

Kobe draws Web traffic

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — For a time, working with not very many facts, lots of people were ready to draw lots of conclusions about guilt and innocence in the Kobe Bryant case.

Many people concluded that Bryant’s accuser was a gold-digger, a publicity seeker, a racist, or perhaps some combination of the three. Others were convinced of Bryant’s guilt, with not a whole lot of evidence other than a general opinion that professional athletes often have a sense of entitlement, so he must have, too.

But since the woman refused to co-operate with prosecutors by testifying in court, the case was dropped. With that, the juicy stuff began coming out.

First to get the goods was the Vail Daily. A transcript of the first police interviews with Bryant were delivered to the newspaper in the mail from an unidentified source. This is the interview where he tells the cops that perhaps the matter can be settled if he pays the girl off – like his teammate Shaquille O’Neal did, he suggested.

This news and subsequent disclosures resulted in a tripling of visits to the Web site of the Vail Daily, with most of the visits originating in California, where Bryant plays basketball the Los Angeles Lakers.

Telluride’s early days

TELLURIDE, Colo. — The party-loving and idealistic baby boomers who were the first influx into the old mining town of Telluride have hit middle age and are now trying to make sense of their early years.

One such effort is "The YX Factor," a new film that chronicles Telluride in the 1970s. A big mine was still operating, but it was clearly on its way out. Still, the old-timers strongly distrusted the newcomers, who had come to ski and, more generally, create a new lifestyle.

A fulcrum in this tension between old and new was over the work of Everett Morrow, the town marshal. He was notorious for everything from unauthorized search-and-seizures to telling visitors, point blank, to get out of town. The marshal himself got booted as soon as the newcomers were able to get their slate of candidates elected to the town government.

But in compiling interviews for the film, co-producer Amy Levek tracked him down to Parachute, Colo., a one-time oil-shale town that is now basically a retirement community. "He was very different from what I expected, having heard so many stories about how much he hassled people and all," Levek tells The Telluride Watch. "He was just very sincere about doing his job," which was, in his estimation, "to make sure the kids were OK and that drugs didn’t become a problem."

Some of the early dreams were realized, such as Telluride’s lovely public radio station, and others were not, such as diminishing the role of cars. But along the way there were laughs, too, Levek says.

One famous story in Telluride is about a woman, who happened to be married, who engaged in a tryst with her boyfriend while at the radio station – the both of them unaware that their indulgence was being broadcast.

No surge in Hispanic voters

EAGLE COUNTY, Colo. — Eagle County, where Vail and Beaver Creek are located, has a large and growing Hispanic population. In 1980, it was less than 10 per cent. Now, it’s about 26 per cent.

But the population gains appear not to translate directly into new voters. The Vail Trail reports that about 15 per cent of voters in the last general election in Eagle County had Spanish surnames. There is no evidence it will surge for this election.

Give that Latinos tend to be poorer, this would seem to translate into potential gains for the Democratic Party, which tends to get the votes of poorer people. Muddling the picture is that so many Hispanics are new to the United States and unwilling to get involved in political groups. A further wrinkle is that many have no documentation of citizenship.

Dems gaining in Jackson Hole

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. — Despite its environmental sympathies, don’t mistake Jackson Hole for an inner-city precinct. This place is solidly Republican. They comprise 55 per cent of the electorate, compared to the 24 per cent who are registered Democrats and 21 per cent who are independents.

But the Democrats are holding their own in new registered voters during the last four years, reports the Jackson Hole News & Guide. In the last two years, Democrats have significantly outpaced Republicans.

While Jackson Hole is basically Republican, it does sometimes cross the line in national elections – as it did both times that Bill Clinton was running for office.

Soiled by nitrogen pollution

ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK, Colo. — Air pollution has begun to poison the ecosystems in the high country of the Colorado Front Range.

Nitrogen compounds in the rain and snow have more than doubled during the last 20 years, reports Denver’s Rocky Mountain News. As the snow melts, runoff acidity spikes, occasionally reaching concentrations strong enough to kill young fish.

The pollution comes from both near and distance sources. Nitrogen levels began to soar in Rocky Mountain National Park beginning about 1950, and they now increase 2 per cent annually.

Agriculture accounts for 21 per cent of the nitrogen, scientists say. The nitrogen comes from farms, where irrigation has rapidly increased in order to grow corn and alfalfa, which are fed to cattle in feedlots. Another 34 per cent of nitrogen emissions come from coal-fired power plants and other smokestack-type "point sources."

But the largest contributor of nitrogen compounds to the alpine tundra and subalpine forests are the cars and trucks from Colorado’s rapidly expanding population. The urbanized corridor from Denver northward has expanded by one million people during the last 20 years. Scientists say vehicle emissions are responsible for 45 per cent of the nitrogen.

But even if all these sources were cut in half, according to one state health official, problems would remain. "There are a lot of out-of-state sources that we need to factor into this – California would be a good place to start – to try to determine what our pollution would be like," said Douglas Benevento, executive director of the Colorado Department of Health.

If the problem continues to grow, researchers fear nitrogen pollution will mimic the effects of acid rain, which has killed forest and sterilized waterways in the eastern United States, central Europe, and Scandinavia. Among the most immediate effects on the alpine tundra would be loss of the diversity of wildflowers as they are replaced by grasses and sedges. On Niwot Ridge, an above-treeline area between Boulder and Granby, 40 per cent of the plant species are also found in the Arctic.

The National Park Service says it intends to push for more efforts to check sources of air pollution. If state officials don’t comply, they say, they will use the stick of federal coercion. Still, environmental groups told the newspaper that the Park Service is moving too slowly.

Caribou declining rapidly

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — A new census shows the woodland caribou in British Columbia may be declining more rapidly than was previously suspected. The caribou are a subspecies of mountain caribou.

A caribou expert, Bruce McLellan, told the Revelstoke Times Review that there is no single cause for the decline. One critical concern is that cougars and other predators have shifted from deer to caribou. Other causes include shifting weather patterns that have affected forage, habitat modification caused by logging, and increased recreation.

"I don’t think it’s hopeless, but it’s not going to be easy." McLellan said. "There is no simple solution."

Lodge to join grid

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — The Irwin Mountain Lodge could get connected to the electrical grid via an eight-mile underground power line from Crested Butte.

The lodge, which is used as a base for Sno-cat skiing and as a site of weddings during summer, opened in 1974 but closed in 2002. The new owner is Archie Cox, CEO of Magnequench, which is a world leader in specialized magnet production, who plans $15 million in renovations and expansions to the lodge during the next three years, reports the Crested Butte News.

In addition to being off the grid, the lodge is accessible only to snow vehicles during winter months.

Tornadoes touch down

DURANGO, Colo. — A couple of rare tornadoes touched down on the edge of Durango on Oct. 5. One picked up a utility trailer and carried it 100 feet, while a second tornado several minutes later touched down long enough to toss a steel-framed cattle shed.

Funnel clouds are common enough in the Durango area, but ones that touch down – tornadoes – are not, noted the Durango Telegraph.