Tom Clyde: Overgrazing
January 3, 2014
In the livestock business, there is a lot of discussion about "carrying capacity" on different pastures or ranges. It’s the sort of magic balance that will produce the most stuff the cattle or sheep like to eat, with the least damage to the range. It’s not as simple as it might appear, as it is always a moving target. Weather conditions, drought, late spring, summer rain or lack of it — all of that kind of works into it on a basis that makes it hard to come up with the number. But when you overgraze something, it becomes painfully apparent the following season, and takes a while to heal up. The problem is that you often don’t know that you have overgrazed until you’ve done it, and by then the damage is done.
As I navigated through the crowds in town through the holidays, the idea of overgrazing was very much on my mind. In addition to the normal holiday traffic, which was apparently right up there with the best of years, we added in a major smog event in Salt Lake. That had lots of people fleeing the valley to come up here just to get away from it. Throw in the mini-Olympics out at the ski jump with lots of interest there, and things got a tad chaotic. In fact, about the only thing missing from the holiday season here was a papal visit and a Grateful Dead reunion concert.
Reports from friends who were unfortunate enough to be out doing errands on the day of New Year’s Eve reported grocery stores picked over like the photos we used to see of Moscow in the 1960s as proof that communism had failed. I don’t know that anybody had resorted to hoarding toilet paper yet, but produce was hard to find, baked goods sold out, and the Kimball Junction liquor store was reportedly picked clean. The traffic jam at Kimball Junction was so complete that there have been reports of cannibalism among those left stranded.
There is a point at which enough is really enough. The holiday crush is short, and that makes it tolerable. I had to pick something up at the pharmacy. I knew my timing was bad, but it coincided with another trip I had to make and I could get in and out without a left turn, so I went for it. There were a dozen people in line ahead of me, and quickly that many more behind. Everybody was getting to the window and presenting an insurance card from British National Health or Blue Cross of Pennsylvania. Nothing was in the system, and trying to figure out what, if anything, was covered by each person’s out-of-state insurance plan was testing the limits of the stores computer system. Twelve insurance plans in 8 languages and people all sharing hacking coughs. It took forever.
That’s the business we are in around here, and for the most part, things worked fairly well. Ski conditions were not what anybody wanted, but on the other hand, it wasn’t -20 degrees and the roads were dry. It could have been a lot more complicated. Between the snowmaking and the grooming, conditions were OK.
Right at the epicenter of all the holiday congestion, the heavy footprint of Sundance is already being felt. In Swede Alley, where parking is already tight, we have a special Sundance-related structure going up. For some reason, it was decided that the whole north parking lot could be given over to a temporary Sundance installation. Rather than wait until this week, when things get very quiet, to start construction, they’ve been at it for a couple of weeks already.
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It’s a lovely wooden structure that will be used for 2 weeks before being torn down. It kind of defines the excess that surrounds Sundance, this building with a 2-week lifespan. I’m sure it is made of only the finest free-range, gluten-free lumber, with plywood made by vegan lumberjacks wearing organic flannel shirts. It will surely all be recycled and made into something useful like chicken coops for urban farmers. It is, after all, part of Sundance, and if there is anything that is all about sustainability, it’s Sundance repurposing an entire town for a two-week event.
The temporary building on Swede Alley probably isn’t any more over-the-top than what goes on in a lot of existing buildings. The derelict old Claim Jumper hotel gets a major interior do-over every year, and apparently makes enough money for the landlord in the process that there hasn’t been any urgency to proceed with the general remodel of the otherwise vacant building. But somehow, the temporary building plotzed down on a whole bunch of very scarce parking during the Christmas week when there are 10 cars for every parking space really pushes it over the top for me.
It’s been a huge issue in town for several years that Sundance directly conflicts with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday (which, not to take anything away from Dr. King, could use a catchier name). But now Sundance is encroaching on Christmas.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.