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Mountain Town News: Misery under the little tent of a traveling circus

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Misery under the little tent of a traveling circus

WESTCLIFFE, Colo. — The circus is coming to Westcliffe, but not everybody is happy.

The Garden Brothers Circus — with its assorted clowns, acrobats, and fast-trotting camels — was/is scheduled to give a June 16 performance in the Wet Mountain Valley with the sky-piercing Sangre de Cristo Mountains as a backdrop.

The performance will include elephants who have been forced to do things elephants don't naturally do, which offends local veterinarian Philip K. Ensley. He told the Wet Mountain Tribune that there is great misery and harm under even the smallest of traveling circus tents that visit small-town America.

Citing his study of one circus, he found that nearly all of the elephants, both young and adults, had foot problems or musculoskeletal disease. The elephants are trained from infancy by use of a "bull-hook," described as a spear-like, steel-tipped tool used to condition and punish elephants.

"The biology of the elephant, an endangered species, has evolved an animal with high levels of intelligence, living in genetically balanced, tight family groups in immense spaces," said Ensley, who was described by the Tribune as an internationally known expert witness in cases of alleged abuse to performing animals. "Circus training and performances deprive them of all of that."

The Tribune reports restrictions on the use of elephants in circuses now in several states.

This particular circus was scheduled to arrive in the mountains of Colorado after touring through five Midwestern states. After the Friday-night show in Westcliffe, it's on to a show the next afternoon in Loveland, five hours away along Colorado's Front Range.

And so it will go for the pachyderms, acrobats, and clowns as they travel through Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. That's just the June schedule.

Student bilingual in language of Pueblans

TAOS, N.M. — Terrance Gomez is bilingual in a way that very few individuals are. He speaks English, but he also speaks Tiwa, the language of his native Taos Pueblo.

Tiwa is also the language of other pueblo communities in New Mexico and Texas. Ancestors had once lived in the Four Corners area. If once called the Anasazi, the preferred name now is the Ancestral Pueblo.

The Taos News reported Gomez recently was awarded a state seal of bilingualism as he graduated from Vista Grande High School.

Terrance Gomez attributes his fluency in Tiwa — a language with no written form — to the cultivation of his grandfather, David Gomez. The elder Gomez estimates that up to half of the children in the tribe may be unable to speak or understand Tiwa.

The younger Gomez plans to eventually study at Fort Lewis College, in Durango, Colorado. He has dreams of becoming an architect.

Dual-immersion alters classroom perspectives

JACKSON, Wyo. — In Wyoming, joyful shouts and chatter in both English and Spanish filled the halls of a local school in Jackson Hole at the annual celebration of the dual-immersion program.

The News&Guide reported classrooms in the program have equal numbers of native Spanish- and native English-speakers who spend half the day learning in Spanish and half the day learning in English. The program is designed to help boost the test scores of students who don't speak English as their native language while promoting multiculturalism.

There are currently 600 students in the program offered to students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Next year, the program will expand to the high school.

Fifth-grade teacher Wendy Hultman said the program alters the curriculum beyond the language difference. For example, she thinks about the indigenous perspective first when teaching about European explorers.

"Dual immersion makes me think about culture in everything I teach," she said. "There's never just one perspective. I want to raise a child who has a multicultural perspective."

Syrian family doing well at Banff gateway town

CANMORE, Alberta — Can Syrian families find a home at the entrance to Banff National Park after leaving war-torn Syria? The answer in at least one case seems to be, "yes."

The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports that a six-member family fled Syria in 2013 after a bombing destroyed the apartment building where they lived.

Members of the Kahkejians family, Syrians of Armenian descent, are among the 4.4 million people who have fled Syria since civil war broke out in 2011. One member of the family has started working as a full-time baker and no longer needs a translator for interviews.

Another family will be arriving in Canmore after a circuitous world-wide journey. The family fled Damascus in 2013 for Egypt, but when the country turned violent they traveled to Malaysia, which at the time accepted Syrians without visas. But they have no refugee status there. Two of the three family members are graphic designers and they all speak English. One speaks French.

In Canmore, the relocation of Syrians is being engineered by the Bow Valley Syria Project with support from the congregation of Ralph Connor Memorial United Church.

Cow elk did not react kindly to the interloper

BANFF, Alberta — A cow elk in Banff National Park did what mothers everywhere may do if they believe their young are threatened. The Rocky Mountain Outlook reports the cow elk kicked a human interloper twice in the head.

The individual briefly lost consciousness and then sought medical attention, but did not appear to be badly injured. Parks Canada officials say the individual tried to give the cow and calf sufficient space, but obviously the cow thought otherwise.

Man left bar and drowned in the river. Is the bar at fault?

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — It's a different and tragic twist on a familiar theme. Steamboat Today reported a bar could be in trouble for serving alcohol to a 22-year-old man who, clearly inebriated, wandered into the Yampa River and drowned.

The newspaper explains that on May 22, Arman Qureshi had taken a woman's coat from the bar and had gone to a nearby alley. Police were called, but he ran from them and into the river.

Police interviews revealed the bartender had served the man four drinks before cutting him off. In addition, the man had drunk at least twice from a woman's drinks.

Micro-apartments among solutions to housing squeeze

HAILEY, Idaho — From hither and thither across the Rockies, mountain towns continue to look for ways to provide more housing, if sometimes in temporary or cramped quarters.

Cramped comes to mind in the description by the Idaho Mountain Express of plans at Hailey, located 12 miles down-stream from Ketchum and Sun Valley. There, developer Jim Warjone, of Economic Housing Solutions, proposes micro-apartments of between 173 and 271 square feet.

The municipal code allows housing units to be as small as 120 square feet, but only allows 20 units per acre. The developer says he needs more density of the micro-apartments in order to deliver affordable units. His original plan was to provide housing for those earning $13 per hour.

In Wyoming, the distended economics of Jackson Hole are revealed in two stories in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. One tells about a new business catering to those with private jets. Another story tells about the rush by the Jackson Town Council to provide the legal means to allow a car camping site behind the community's recreation center before the blitz of summer. In Jackson, unlike most ski towns, the busiest time of the year occurs in summer.

Bob McLaurin, the town manager, called the car-camping plans an experiment. "We think it will go well… but if it's an unmitigated disaster, we'll pull the plug on it," he said.

Six of the 20 spaces will be reserved for employees of Jackson and of Teton County.

In Colorado, the Fraser Town Board tweaked zoning codes in an effort to address what Sky-Hi News described as the "glaring need" for housing. The changes will result in smaller lots, hence greater density.

But the newspaper reported some pushback from locals who fret this will not result in more housing for locals, but instead in more housing used for short-term rentals.

"I want to be sure this is being done for the right reasons, for the locals," said one local resident, a government employee. "I don't want to end up living next to three small Airbnbs."

The older Fraser, a one-time railroad and ranching town, lies cheek to jowl with the newer Winter Park, home of the eponymous ski resort of the same name.

In Crested Butte, after a year of talking, the town council set the basic rules for short-term rentals made popular through web-based sites such as Airbnb. Jim Schmidt, a long-term councilman, called it a good compromise.

The Crested Butte News explained that any homeowner with a primary residence in Crested Butte can apply for a license to rent a home for up to 60 days per year. But the new law allows only 30 percent of homes to be rented in that way. It's first come, first served, then there's a waiting list.

Units can be rented long term. Conversely, deed-restricted housing units — such as those provided by local governments for affordable housing — cannot be entered into the short-term rental pool.

Council members heard testimony that making a little money from rentals is crucial to survival for many locals trying to bear the weight of mortgages. Even in über-liberal Crested Butte there was pushback from those — including council members — who thought the government had no right to limit use of private property.

Group wants higher tax on carbon from snowmobiles

REVELSTOKE, B.C. — British Columbia already has a carbon tax, although at just $30 per ton, it probably isn't high enough to actually change behavior or suppress emissions.

But an environmental group would like to raise the ante in Revelstoke, stiffening the tax on the use of fossil fuels used for snowmobiling and possibly for heli-skiing and heli-hiking.

The North Columbia Environmental Society not only wants the levy assessed on snowmobiling but also wants the city to stop promoting snowmobiling. The group would have the local government use the revenues to relieve its carbon tax obligations.

The group, according to a report by the Revelstoke Times, calculates that one two-stroke snowmobile can emit up to 84 kilograms of carbon per day. A Bell 212 helicopter, which is commonly used for heli-skiing, emits 4,800 kilograms per day.

Perhaps the best evidence about the production of carbon dioxide by snowmobiles was done at Yellowstone National Park in the late 1990s. Since then, however, two-stroke engines have been largely replaced by four-stroke engines, which burn fuel more efficiently and produce less pollution.

But regardless of the exact production of snowmobiles in the Revelstoke area, the debate probably will be more general. Daniel Kellie, the president of the Revelstoke Snowmobile Club, told the newspaper that 28,000 snowmobilers who used the club's trails last year already paid an extra 3 cents per liter of gasoline.

"As a user, we're already paying our taxes," Kellie said.

He also wondered why the environmental group singled out snowmobilers and did not address dirt bikers or heli-skiers with the same purpose.

One commenter on the newspaper's website, though, thought it was a fair request.

"If people travel in a polluting manner in order to participate in an athletic adventure that has hefty carbon footprint, it follows they have money to burn and we should ask them to bear their fair share of the civic carbon tax burden," the person wrote.

How California's C02 tax helps run ski lifts at Aspen

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California put a price on carbon, effectively bumping up the price of gasoline by about 15 cents a gallon. Has it worked in suppressing greenhouse gas emissions?

California state officials say yes, that emissions fell by 1.5 million tons in 2015. They said that's the equivalent of pulling 300,000 cars off roads.

The state, reported the Sacramento Bee, is on target to meet 2020 benchmarks established in a landmark climate change law passed in 2006.

But the newspaper, after talking with a great many people, reported divergent opinions. Critics say that the climate change initiatives have dented economic growth, and they predict an even larger impact as new, more stringent carbon targets are imposed by state leaders in coming years.

California's cap-and-trade program requires fuel wholesalers, along with other big industrial firms, to purchase emissions allowances. In addition, fuel producers — from giant oil refiners to ethanol manufacturers — must purchase separate credits to comply with the state's low-carbon fuel standard. The costs get passed along to consumers.

This price in carbon has had somewhat surprising results in Colorado. Several years ago, a coal mine about 100 miles west of Aspen was outfitted to capture methane emissions. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and the methane is now captured and burned to produce electricity instead of being allowed to rise to the troposphere.

Part of the economic package to make the project work included payments from California's cap-and-trade market. The electricity is purchased by Holy Cross Energy, which distributes power that operates the ski lifts at Vail and Aspen.

Allen Best has edited mountain town newspapers for 20 years. He has served as managing editor at four different mountain town newspapers and is now living in metropolitan Denver. Visit mountaintownnews.net for more information.