Mountain Town News: Deer faced cruel Wyoming winter
A roundup of news from other ski resort communities
June 4, 2017
Far fewer carcasses along highway after new crossings
KREMMLING, Colo. — When Colorado wildlife biologists drove along Highway 9 between Silverthorne and Kremmling during the 2015-16 winter, they found far fewer carcasses of mule deer than had normally been the case. In a 5-mile segment where 30 were usually found, there were just three.
The difference? A lot of tall fences, 8 feet high, strung along the highway through the sagebrush-covered valley between Green Mountain Reservoir and Kremmling. But also this: One overpass and three underpasses had been installed to allow mule deer and other animals to cross the highway without getting hit.
Last summer, a second overpass and two underpasses were completed along a 4.5-mile stretch. Michelle Cowardin, a wildlife biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, says data collection is incomplete but it appears that nearly 90 percent fewer carcasses were found along the highway after this past winter.
The two wildlife overpasses are the first in Colorado. Others, however, have been built elsewhere. The most notable in North America are located on the TransCanada Highway in Banff National Park. In recent years, others have been constructed near Pinedale, Wyoming, over Interstate 80 in Nevada, and across Highway 93 just south of the Hoover Dam in Arizona.
The wildlife work, part of a larger highway improvement project, cost about $13.8 million. There were both public and private funders. Notable was the $4 million donated by the owner of a nearby ranch and $3.1 million from Grand County. Another $1.2 million in private donations was also collected. Local governments, including Summit County, Silverthorne and Kremmling, chipped in, as well.
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Highway 9 is used daily by commuters driving between Kremmling, a small town along the Colorado River, and the resort communities of Summit County, including Frisco and Breckenridge.
Through the years, there have been several deer-related fatalities. In March 2011, a local ranch couple, Gene and Mimi Ritschard, was killed when a pickup driver swerved and hit them in their sub-compact car head-on. The driver said she swerved to avoid deer.
Cowardin pointed out the 7,000 crossings documented in just the first winter had the potential to cause accidents had the project not been completed.
In southwest Colorado, large arch underpasses were installed under U.S. 550, a highway used to reach Telluride, with wildlife fencing and escape ramps to allow wildlife safe movement under the highway. Underpasses were also installed along U.S. 160, between Durango and Bayfield. Additional wildlife features are planned near Nathrop, between Buena Vista and Salida.
Devastating winter for deer in southwest Wyoming
KEMMERER, Wyo. — The harsh winter was devastating to mule deer in southwest Wyoming. Casualties were double the average and of a severity that comes around only a few times a century.
The Jackson Hole News&Guide traipsed along with wildlife researchers in Nugget Canyon, which is about 150 miles south of Jackson and 100 miles northeast of Park City, Utah.
Walking for a little over an hour along Highway 30, volunteers found 18 dead deer. Of them, 11 were fawns.
The mule deer winter in that area and, in spring, migrate into the Wyoming Range, some even reaching the outer limits of the valley called Jackson Hole.
"If people want to be upset about not having deer, this is the year to be upset," said Andy Countryman, from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. "But you can't be upset with anybody but Mother Nature. She whupped us. She whupped us bad."
Biologists do see a silver lining. "Rarely do we have the opportunity to learn so much," said Kevin Monteith, a University of Wyoming zoology professor. "This is probably a once-in-many-decades type of winter."
He went on to explain that in past winters, such as 1992-93, "we knew we lost a lot of animals, but that's mostly what we knew. We didn't know a whole lot more."
But with lots of moisture to nourish the winter range and fewer deer browsing on it, the deer herds are expected to rebound.
Tension abounds about immigration crackdown
ASPEN, Colo. — Tension about the Trump administration's policies on immigration continues to be in the news in Aspen, a resort community vitally dependent on employees willing to work for lower wages. Many appear to be in the United States illegally.
Pitkin County commissioners in April passed a resolution that declared Pitkin County would be a "welcoming community for immigrants." The county resolution instructs county personnel to not perform the functions of federal immigration officers or otherwise engage in the enforcement of federal immigration law.
But the Trump administration is now trying to use federal purse strings to get local cooperation with immigration officials. A memo sent from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to county sheriffs in Colorado reminded them that "state and local jurisdictions may not prohibit, or in any way restrict, any government entity regarding the citizenship or immigration status, lawful or unlawful, of any individual."
Pitkin County responds that cooperation between local law enforcement agencies and federal immigration officials may violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects persons against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The Aspen Daily News reported that Pitkin County officials won't budge. County Manager Jon Peacock says he believes the resolution does not appear to violate the federal law cited by Sessions in his memo.
Tension and uncertainty are also reported among immigrants, worried they may be deported.
"People are afraid enough of being deported that even documented immigrants — people with green cards who are here legally — are asking that their names be removed from enrollment lists at local health-services providers," Jennifer Smith, one of three attorneys in the Roaring Fork Valley whose practice is totally focused on immigration law, told the Daily News.
"They do not want to talk to police officers, either as victims of crimes or witnesses. I have clients who do not want to travel, especially abroad. I tell them, 'Hey, you have a green card. You should be able to leave the country and come back legally.' But many don't want to risk it."
Money spigots open as ski town hotels move forward
TAOS, N.M. — A flurry of new hotels provides more evidence of the booming economy in ski towns of the Rocky Mountains.
In Aspen, demolition of the aging Sky Hotel began. That hotel, built in the 1960s, will be replaced by a $56 million W Hotel.
John Sarpa, a representative of Northridge Capital, the developer, said the construction loan is coming from "a big investment firm" that he did not identify. He also noted there were multiple options for financing.
"A year ago, we had some options, but not a lot," he told the Aspen Daily News. This year, "we had three times" as many options. "Maybe we are finally coming out from under the shadow of 2008."
The 40-foot-tall building will have a 12,000-square-foot rooftop bar and pool deck.
If Aspen's W Hotel goes for the high end, the 56-room Silver Creek hotel at Bellevue, Idaho, will hope to attract people who don't want to pay $300 to $500 for rooms at Ketchum and Sun Valley, located 18 miles up-valley.
The Idaho Mountain Express reported that units were constructed in Boise, several hours away, and trucked to the site by truck. The developer says the units will have even more timber than those of hotels assembled entirely from lumber on site, helping suppress the sound between units.
In Taos, a four-story Holiday Inn Express had been rejected three times by the planning commission. After a contentious meeting, the board recommended the city council in Taos approve the hotel.
Carbon and the conundrum of long-distance travel
TELLURIDE, Colo. — Thousands of people gathered in Telluride over the Memorial Day weekend for Telluride Mountainfilm. The festival had films documenting the problems caused by the changing climate, which scientists say is mostly due to the greenhouse gas emissions being put into the atmosphere.
What can Telluride do to reduce its role in global warming? Stop having festivals, writes Glenn Raleigh, a local resident, in a letter published in the Telluride Daily Planet. He estimated that Bluegrass Festival, to be held in late June, will cause people to drive between 1.2 and 2 million miles.
Crested Butte wants its cut on coal-mine royalties
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Crested Butte, once a coal-mining town, now wants to have mining entirely in its rear-view mirror. But just across Kebler Pass, also within Gunnison County, are coal mines that produce a little bit of revenue for local jurisdictions.
A reduction in the royalty rate assessed the coal being mined has been proposed, but Crested Butte would like to hang on to what it gets, nearly $27,000 last year. The school district received nearly $50,000, reported the Crested Butte News.
Pushback against Aspen Ski Co. climate lobbying
CARBONDALE, Colo. — Now comes a charge of hypocrisy directed at the Aspen Skiing Co. and its efforts to effect broad, sweeping policies in response to the risk of climate change.
Electricity that powers the snowmakers and chairlifts at Aspen, Snowmass, and other ski areas opened by the company comes from an electrical cooperative called Holy Cross Energy. Holy Cross also serves other communities from Vail to Rifle along the I-70 corridor.
Holy Cross is a minority owner in Colorado's newest coal plant, Comanche 3, located at Pueblo, Colorado, which opened in 2010. But Holy Cross has aggressively sought to encourage renewable energy. These latter efforts have largely come in the last decade after the Aspen Skiing Co. began trying to get directors elected.
Tom Turnbull, a rancher from Carbondale and a former director of Holy Cross for 33 years, cries foul in a letter published in The Aspen Times. He accuses the company of hypocrisy in "trying to promote their green image when they themselves are undoubtedly one of the biggest carbon polluters in the valley coupled with their private jet-setting clientele …"
He shares his skepticism about climate change science and also the efforts to create 100 percent renewables while keeping rates affordable. "They better be prepared to face the music and it isn't going to be a waltz."
Expand the art center and will the donations arrive?
CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Build it and they will give? That's the assumption at Crested Butte, where the town council has signed off on a $15 million expansion of the Center for the Arts.
Directors of the center must still get pledges for more than half the money, reported the Crested Butte News. Directors reason that with something underway, it will be easier to raise the money than if it's just a plan.
By a vote of 4-1, the Crested Butte Town Council agreed with the logic. "For me, it's a leap of faith into the known," said Jim Schmidt, a long-time councilman. The lone dissenter, Mayor Glenn Michel, said government likes certainty, not faith.
The expansion will yield 38,000 square feet of a more flexible theater space, studio, galleries and exhibition areas.
Not as bad as elsewhere, but opioids in Crested Butte
GUNNISON, Colo. —Sheriff deputies in Gunnison County have been carrying a new tool of late, something called Narcan, that can be administered to prevent overdose deaths from opioids.
But if heroin and other opioids are found in Gunnison County, reported the Crested Butte News, the epidemic is nowhere as severe there as in many places of rural America. Abuse of opioid painkiller and drugs such as heroin have been a persistent, if small, problem, especially in the areas surrounding Crested Butte.
An electric highway in the Truckee-Tahoe area
TRUCKEE, Calif. — A vision is taking shape of what is called an electric highway in the Truckee-Lake Tahoe area. That area is bounded by Interstate 80 and U.S. Highway 50.
The Lake Tahoe News says this idea has been discussed since 2006, but there are now 30 models of electric vehicles available for purchase, including hybrids. There are only 115 EVs currently owned by people in the region, but that is expected to grow.
Adoption of EVs would also help knock back greenhouse gas emissions, if the electricity comes from non-carbon sources. Transportation has become the No. 2 source of greenhouse gas emissions at Lake Tahoe, according to the Tahoe Regional Transportation District.
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.