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Bad month for bears



WHITEFISH, Mont. - From Colorado to British Columbia, it's been a bad month to be a bear - and occasionally a person. Wildlife officials have felt obligated to take out, euthanize, destroy or otherwise kill a number of bears that had shown too much comfort being around people.

In Revelstoke, B.C., officials killed five bears that had wandered into town. The bears had been eating garbage, birdseed, compost, fruit trees and pet food. The Revelstoke Times Review says the berry crop at high elevations is nearly non-existent.

No such excuses were offered at Crested Butte, Colo., where a 227-kilogram black bear was shot after it invaded a house. "He wasn't scared of me in the least," a man told officers.

Apparently the bear was afraid of others, who chased him out of the house and into the woods. A few hours later the bear was seen in a vehicle. That did it. Officers chased the bear and shot it. It was found dead the next morning, reports the Crested Butte News .

In Montana, two grizzlies were shot and killed in separate locations. The Whitefish Pilot reports a 168-kilogram grizzly was killed after it approached homes in Whitefish, broke into a chicken coop, and scarfed up dog and cat food. Worried that the bear might be a danger to people - and not just their property - wildlife officials authorized the killing.

Also in Montana, near Red Lodge, an older, heavier bear was "euthanized," according to the Carbon County News , because of its reputation of killing cattle on a ranch. It was the second cattle-killing spree for the grizzly.

In the panhandle of Idaho, another grizzly bear was killed by mistake - the hunters thought it was a black bear - but not until it killed of its hunters.

Finally, In British Columbia, wildlife officials killed three cougars that were making themselves entirely too much at home in backyards of Squamish, near Whistler.


A bicycle friendly community

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Steamboat Springs has been bumped up to gold status by a group called Bicycle Friendly Community.

It joins 13 other communities with a similar distinction, including Breckenridge and Fort Collins, which are also in Colorado. Another Colorado town, Boulder, is one of just three platinum-level cities - a distinction that Steamboat bicycle proponents would also like.

Some of the local bloggers, however, were unimpressed. Maybe the award will provoke Steamboat to create a reality that matches the materials that had been submitted, said one.


Fire greatest natural threat

ASPEN, Colo. - By the odds, fire is the single greatest threat to Pitkin County, where Aspen is located, more than floods and landslides, and certainly more than tornadoes and earthquakes.

That's according to a new report prepared by county emergency personnel. The study reports a 23 per cent chance in any given year of a wildfire that spreads across 75 acres or more. Less likely, but with far greater consequences, is a wildfire of catastrophic proportions.

"Depending on the size of the wildfire, and its location, the loss of life and amount of damage could be catastrophic," says the draft report.

The report credits Pitkin County with "taking great leadership in mitigation and prevention of wildfires," but notes the lingering possibility of a "fire that quickly burns out of control."

About 58 per cent of all structures in the county are located in what is often described as the wilderness-urban interface, and of those structures, 77 per cent are located within higher-risk areas.

Regulations governing new or expanded homes in the high-hazard interface area mandate more stringent building materials.


Telluride also sees fire threat

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Wildfire, too, is the greatest threat facing Telluride and its gondola-linked sibling of Mountain Village.

"It's time to move forward and start doing some things," said Judy Schutza, the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. "We need defensible spaces around the communities and around homes."

The Daily Planet reports that a task force of local governments, the ski area operator and the federal government hopes to effect actions on both sides of the federal-private boundary. Just where the money needed to thin trees will come from seems to be in doubt, but there is hope.


Small-time growers beaten, plants stolen

TELLURIDE, Colo. - It may not compare to the drug war in Mexico, but the Telluride community was unsettled by a home invasion in a rural areas to the west, near the town of Norwood, by two men wielding guns that looked like AK-47s.

The two men seized several thousand dollars of cash, a gun, and then cut down and hauled off a large amount of marijuana growing on the property.

Bill Masters, sheriff of San Miguel County, said he was surprised at the violence, but not the theft.

The two inhabitants of the house were both men who had medical-marijuana cards, allowing them to possess marijuana and grow up to three plants each. They had exceeded that limit, but Masters told The Telluride Watch that theirs was still a non-commercial operation.

The intruders beat the two residents and forced them to the ground at gunpoint, then bound their hands and ankles with duct tape. They were then pitched into a shed, beaten again and threatened if they did not reveal the location of valuables. Later, a neighbor stopped by, and she was also taped, pistol whipped, and tossed into the shed.

"It was basically 12 hours of terror," Masters told the Telluride Daily Planet . The victims finally freed themselves by chewing through the duct tape.

Masters, who has long been known as an opponent of the War on Drugs, said he believes that Colorado's more liberalized laws governing growing and selling of marijuana will likely produce more reporting of these kinds of incidents. "They've been occurring for a long time, but have mostly gone unreported."

But in at least one sense, the armed bandits were bunglers. They made the raid when the marijuana plants were still eight weeks from maturity, and hence of an inferior quality often called "ditch weed."


Too much markup in 'medicine' price

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif. - You think resort real estate is expensive (or at least used to be, before the recession)? You should hear about the costs of "medicine" in Mammoth Lakes.

Michael King, writing a letter in The Sheet , complains that the two local dispensaries of medical marijuana are charging 140 per cent more than the going rate "down south" (as Los Angeles area is called from the perspective of Mammoth). Other local retailers would probably like a similar profit margin, he surmises.

"It also must be nice to finally have found a business that is not seasonal," he adds.


Gas rigs may get close

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. - Steamboat has had coal-mining camps south and west since long before it had ski lifts, so it probably shouldn't come as a surprise that oil and gas drillers are now approaching, too.

The Steamboat Pilot reports mineral leasing - and well-drilling applications - to within 13 kilometresĀ  of the resort town. Whether much will come of this is another matter. But Royal Dutch Shell intends to bore down to nearly two miles underground to test the prospects for natural gas, oil, or both.

The newspaper talked with the owner of a 35-acre ranchette, who bought the property in 2009 and knew that it did not include the mineral rights. Still, she never imagined that drilling rigs might arrive so soon.


Right-wingers hash out affairs

AVON, Colo. - It's well known that some of the nation's leading politicians and business interests meet behind closed doors in ski towns, but usually it's in Aspen and involves liberals.

Now comes a report, courtesy of Mother Jones , a magazine, which reported that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie met with billionaires and arch-conservatives David and Charles Koch. Citing a clandestine recording, the magazine quotes Christie introducing David Koch at a gathering of conservatives this summer in Beaver Creek. "I said to myself, 'I'm really impressed and inspired by this man. He is my kind of guy,'" said Christie in introducing Koch.

The magazine insinuated that the Kochs influenced Christie to drop out of the 10-state pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions called the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. Christie denies he had a conversation about RGGI with the Koch brothers.

The billionaire brothers, in addition to being art patrons in New York, are oil barons from Wichita, Kan. They are noted for their rejection of the science that finds great potential risk as a result of greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere.


Go figure: sales tax up, real estate down

BRECKENRIDGE, Colo. - Go figure. From across the region come reports that it was a pretty healthy summer in mountain towns, at least in terms of collections of sales taxes. In Breckenridge, for example, collections were up nearly 18 per cent. Those in July were up 5 per cent. And lodging during August was up 21 per cent compared to last year.

Real estate, however, took a dive during July, as the U.S. Congress was in gridlock about spending. In Aspen, for example, sales were half of the volume of last year. No reports have surfaced of August sales.


Plastic ban ban?

ASPEN, Colo. - Aspen has had a change of mind about imposing a fee of 20 cents on plastic grocery bags. Now, several members of the city council wants to flat-out ban all plastic bags.

"Why don't we just get to the ban right now if that's what we want to do," said Adam Frisch, a councilman, at a recent meeting covered by The Aspen Times .

But there's a hiccup if Aspen does change course. After consulting with two other local municipalities, Basalt and Carbondale, there had been something of a consensus that a fee, instead of a ban, was the way to go, and they were better off working in unison.

Mayor Mick Ireland argued against changing course. "Now we're gonna throw them under the bus and say, 'We didn't really mean that. Thanks for the time, but we have a better idea,'" he said. "I don't like that."

Still more dissent came from Derek Johnson, who said he believes a total ban would impose a hardship on visitors. He said he believes retailers are headed toward some sort of solution to providing plastic bags on their own.


New backcountry cabin takes shape

BERTHOUD PASS, Colo. - In truth, the old Second Creek cabin affords little more separation from the elements than a good North Face tent. The new cabin near Berthoud Pass should do better.

The old cabin was built by volunteers in 1958. An A-frame with 23 square metres, it had just three layers of plywood on the ground serving as flooring. The walls are tree poles leaned up against a center log and then wired together, the poles then covered by plywood and asphalt sheeting. Every expense was spared.

For all its primitiveness, it has always been a popular attraction, winter and summer. Location can be everything. It's just a mile off Highway 40. Downtown Denver is 80 kilomtres away, Winter Park another half-dozen hairpin turns down the valley. At 3,500 metres, the cabin is just two rumples away from the Continental Divide.

In the 1990s, Andy Miller and other local backcountry skiers began taking steps to deliver a better cabin, along the lines of those built by the 10 th MountĀ ain Division between Aspen and Vail.

"It's astounding it stood for 53 years, because there really wasn't all that much to it," he says.

Miller's group got permission in 2001 from the U.S. Forest Service to build a new hut. More difficult yet was raising the money.

The $220,000 in hand was good enough to start the 156-square metres cabin, not finish it. Nonetheless, it is expected to be ready by Christmas 2012.

A pellet-burning stove will be installed, along with a thermostat. "People have a tendency to keep stuffing wood stoves," Miller observes.

The new hut will also have solar collectors, and it was designed to milk a maximum amount of passive solar. It will sleep 16, plus 4 volunteers

And there will be two toilets, designed to compost, even in the thin, often frigid air found just below tree line. It may not be the complete answer, but Miller expects far fewer wads of toilet paper littering the landscape after spring snowmelt once the new toilets become available to day skiers in the Second Creek bowl.