Mountain Town News: Are idle cars the devil’s tools? | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: Are idle cars the devil’s tools?

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

More moose and fewer willows. Any connection?
GRAND LAKE, Colo. – Moose have become commonplace in Rocky Mountain National Park, which should be no real surprise. Some 24 were released not far away, in North Park, in 1978. Now 2,500 roam across mountainous Colorado.

But are there too many moose now in the national park? That's the question that emerges from several news stories this year about a new research study. Up to 40 moose are being outfitted with GPS monitors, the better to understand them and their use of their environments.

Moose were not native to Colorado, at least in the numbers they are now found. Some evidence from the 1850s exists of small numbers of transient moose, typically lone bulls, but no breeding populations.

Even after introduction in Colorado, moose mostly remained on the west side of the Continental Divide, in the Kawuneeche Valley. Ten years or so ago, says the Sky-Hi News, sightings became more common near Estes Park, the gateway town on the east side.

Monitoring of vegetation suggest more and more moose on both sides. Vegetative plots monitored on the west side showed an increase from 80 percent having evidence of moose to 100 percent between 2013 and 2018. On the east side, the increase was even greater, 3 percent to 85 percent.

Expanding moose have contributed significantly to the 40 percent reduction in willows in the park during the last two decades. Willows provide 93 percent of a moose's 55-pound daily diet. Elk grazing also contributes to the decline, along with a fungus spread by birds that feed on willow sap, says landscape ecologist Hanem Abouelezz.

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Willows serve as soil stabilizers in riparian zones, which serve as the interface between land and a river or stream and are critical to watershed health, wildlife habitat, and overall ecosystem health, explains the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph. "Without such vegetation, the riparian zone can wash away, impacting the aquatic and terrestrial landscape."

Without grizzly bears and wolves —primary predators of moose—the willows have few defenses.

"The changes that caused the moose population to grow, the willows to die off, and the riparian zones to be impacted didn't happen overnight, and neither will the solution," Abouelezz told the Gazette-Telegraph.

Whatever is done, she added, it will not be an effort to recreate some balance that would have still existed had it not been for the large role of humans in the last 100 years.

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Airport important key to wealth of Jackson Hole
JACKSON, Wyo. – Jackson Hole has always had the gobsmacking Teton Range, the marvels of Yellowstone just up the road and, since the 1960s, the steeps of Jackson Hole Mountain Resort.

But the extraordinary wealth, which rivals that of Aspen, didn't arrive until the 1990s. Teton County routinely ranks among the top handful of counties in the nation for per-capita income.

Wyoming's lack of a state income tax explains part of that fact. People of wealth have obvious reason for claiming permanent residency there. But there's also the airport. The airport allows people of wealth to fly directly to the city's major urban areas with relative ease, and vice versa.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reports that the airport's 50th birthday was observed in September. Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger—famous for the Hudson River landing in 2009 that saved his life and those of 15 passengers — gave a speech.

Jackson, the town, and Teton County created an oversight authority in 1968 for the runway that had existed for 37 years previously. It was then, and remains now, the only airport located within a national park. It's located north of Jackson in Grand Teton National Park.

But for a time, it looked like the airport would disappear. The Jackson Hole News&Guide, citing a 2014 book called "Peaks, Politics and Passion," explains that the National Park Service in the 1970s let it be known that it intended to end the airport's special-use permit.

Then along came James Watt, the Wyoming native that President Ronald Reagan had chosen to head the Interior Department, which oversees the Park Service. He scuttled the plans to end the permit, and so the airport remains, with daily flights even during the off-season to distant cities.

Phil Hocker, a former resident of the valley, told the News&Guide that living in Jackson Hole "used to take some work," because it entailed enduring winters and the doldrums of shoulder seasons.

With the airport and the full schedule of flights, commuting has become easy. Hocker says he's an example. In some seasons, he can fly directly between Jackson Hole and Washington D.C.

"I pop in. I take a certain role in a civic issue, and then I fly back to the swamp. And I'm not the only one. The big money that's in the valley now just wasn't conceivable in the 1970s. The gimmick of moving to Jackson to avoid state income taxes was not something that Realtors touted in the day."

The pivotal time, he says, occurred in the 1990s—a time of pivot for Aspen, Vail, and other major resorts, also. Always places of wealth, they became even more upscale. The Reagan era tax policies have been attributed to an economic elite that became wealthier yet.

While advances in aviation technology have diminished the noise, landing planes can still be scary, says the News&Guide. "From a pilot's perspective, Jackson Hole Airport has always been a challenging place to fly into: high elevation, mercurial precipitation, winds influenced by the Tetons."

A 2008 audit found that 20 jets and private planes had run off the end of the runway during the previous decade. A couple planes, one carrying 121 passengers and the other 179, had ended up plowing into the deep snow off the end of the runway.

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What drove Telluride to cap time for idling vehicles
TELLURIDE, Colo. – Last winter, enforcement officers in Telluride issued 86 citations for idling motor vehicles.

The town law limits idling vehicles to 30 seconds, except on cold mornings. In adopting this law some years ago, the town council had two motivations. The foremost need, says Hilary Cooper, who was then on the council, was to improve air quality. Telluride, she said, was in out and out of attainment with air quality standards.

"But conservation of fossil fuels was certainly a consideration," she tells the Telluride Daily Planet.

"I believe there was a growing national recognition of the harm of excessive idling as well."

An idling vehicle emits 20 times more pollution than a vehicle traveling 30 mph, according to the Sierra Club. The organization estimates that idling cars emit 40,000 tons of carbon monoxide daily in the United States while wasting $13 million and consuming 3.8 million gallons of fuel.

It once was believed, correctly, that warming up an engine was good before driving it. The Telluride law concedes that notion, with its 3-minute allowance in cold weather. However, studies have found that 30 seconds will easily suffice, even in cold weather, and longer idling actually harms a motor.

Several other Colorado mountain towns also have laws limiting idling. Aspen allows 5 minutes per hour, but the vehicle must be attended at all times. Basalt allows just 2 minutes. Winter Park goes as far as 15 minutes.

Colorado has a state law that limits idling to no more than 5 minutes per hour, but it only applies to commercial vehicles weighing in excess of 14,000 pounds. The state law allows 20 minutes per hour when temperatures dip below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Winter Park unlikely to thread this needle with a 4WD road
WINTER PARK, Colo. – Fraser, Winter Park, and Grand County officials want to get an old road used by four-wheelers across the Continental Divide reopened. But it looks unlikely, because Boulder County, the jurisdiction on the other side of the range, is completely uninterested.

The road hews to a railroad route first used in 1904. The railroad was the ambition of David Moffat, who had made a pile of money in the silver boom at Leadville in the 1870s and 1880s. Then, as a resident of Denver, he wanted to advance the city's future by creating a rail link directly to Salt Lake City. A 6.2-mile tunnel was eventually blasted under the mountain, but in the interim the railroad was sent across 11,676-foot Rollins Pass.

Four-wheelers for many years drove the old railroad route, but then a small tunnel, called Needle's Eye, partially collapsed in 1990. It remains closed.

Grand County Commissioner Rich Cimino tells the Sky-Hi News the county is interested in reopening the tunnel because it would boost recreation and economy. "I'm sure a lot of people from Denver and Boulder would come into Grand County through that route," he says.

Winter Park and Fraser also want the short tunnel reopened, but Boulder County has no interest. The tunnel is located in Boulder County, and after the 1990 collapse, the county ended up paying a "not unsubstantial" amount due to injuries, according to Michelle Krezek, deputy of the Boulder County Board of Commissioners. Too, she says, the county is still paying recovery costs incurred during the floods of September 2013.

"Frankly, the commissioners feel like it's not a good use of public money to open up a road that's only going to be in use for several months of the year," explained Krezek.

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Gazex avalanche mitigation noisy, but are there options?
TRUCKEE, Calif. – Residents who live near the base of Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows have begun venting frustration with the use of Gazex, the device used to set off controlled avalanches. It's just too loud, they say.

The Gazex technology ignites a mixture of propane and oxygen inside an open metal tube, creating shock waves in a snowpack that causes unsettled snow to slide. California's Placer County, which has responsibility for the roads to Squaw Valley, issued the first permit for use of the technology in 2015.

But locals at a meeting covered by the Sierra Sun say that sounds and shockwaves resulting from Gazex are much greater than previous mitigation techniques. They question why there hasn't been greater oversight.

Steve Pedretti, Placer County's representative, said other avalanche techniques have been more explosive than the propane used in Gazex. "It's safer to transport, it's safer to house, and it's safer to utilize," he said.

One resident of the Olympic Valley, as the base area is known, expressed concern about the risk posed to his 2-year-old child by the explosions, which he said have a volume of 125 decibels. He cited information that he attributed to the World Health Organization, that says toddlers should not be exposed to noise, even temporary, of more than 120 decibels. He wanted more study.

A website called hear.net says pain begins at 125 decibels. It's the same volume as emitted by a pneumatic riveter as heard from four feet away. A power mower is 107 decibels and a jet engine from 100 feet is 140 decibels.

Placer County has promised to go more slowly, but use of the technology seems to be locked in for the coming winter.

Casey Blann, senior vice president of mountain operations at Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows, said other avalanche-mitigation techniques also have limitations.

Hand charges have resulted in the death of three ski patrollers at Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows during the last eight years. Use of Army-loaned howitzers will come to an end soon, for reasons not clear. Then there are Avalaunchers, which have often resulted in unexploded duds.

"We're in a position where we have real legal and ethical considerations. Not just the ones you are bringing up, but in asking patrollers to go in and risk their lives when there's an alternative piece of equipment."