Mountain Town News: Rain saves the day, Comey comes to Aspen, and it’s unclear if Trump affects tourism | ParkRecord.com

Mountain Town News: Rain saves the day, Comey comes to Aspen, and it’s unclear if Trump affects tourism

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

Is Trump keeping foreign tourists away from the U.S.?

LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Is the belligerent screw-you talk of president Donald Trump keeping tourists from other countries from visiting the United States?

Writing in The Conversation, Bing Pan says probably, although it's hard to parcel out Trump from other reasons.

Bing, an associate professor of tourism management at Pennsylvania State University, says income levels, exchange rates, hospitality infrastructure, and even the release of a movie can affect tourist volumes.

Even before Trump was elected, the number of visitors to the United States had flattened. Canadians, who constitute a quarter of all international visitors, have had a drop in the value of their currency relative to U.S. dollars in recent years.

While there is some evidence that Trump himself is causing people to steer clear of the United States, Chinese visitors are actually more likely to visit the United States under the Trump administration.

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Gray wolves trot deeper into the Sierra Nevada

TRUCKEE, Calif. – A gray wolf has trotted to within a mile and a half of Interstate 80 and the Boreal Mountain ski area near the summit of Donner Pass.

This is 20 miles from Lake Tahoe and the farthest south in the Sierra Nevada that wolves have been in modern times.

Wildlife biologists tell the Sierra Sun they believe the wolf is the offspring of a wolf that is native to Oregon but wandered south in 2011. She was the first wolf to cross into California in decades.

A collared GPT transmitter on the wolf alerted representatives of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife as to the whereabouts of the canis lupus, as gray wolves are taxonomically identified by scientists.

In Canada, scientists have also used a tracking device to follow a female wolf in Banff National Park. Unlike California, wolves are not uncommon in Banff and most of Alberta. What's unusual is the existence of lactating females in the same vicinity.

"When two wolves in the same pack have pups the same year, the main breeding female may kill the other pups or they are simply abandoned," wildlife research ecologist Jesse Whittington explained to the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

On the other hand, maybe this wolf has in California been coming and going. Wolves will travel up to 2 kilometers (12 miles) in search of food for their pups.

A scare in the Rockies, before the rains finally came

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. – Soaring flames at the foot of 12,777-foot Buffalo Mountain last week scared plenty of people. Little more than an hour after the first wisps of smoke were reported, the evacuation of 1,400 homes near the Summit County town of Silverthorne had begun.

The fire never got that far, but it could have. Vast resources were devoted to containing the blaze at the intersection of mountain resort-style exurban sprawl and designated wilderness.

Taking in the picture two days later, Summit Daily News reporter Deepan Dutta reported that the "rocky, log-strewn ground surrounding the neighborhoods has turned to a brown, black and pink hellscape, carpet-bombed over and over by air tankers dropping the fire retardant and water."

Jeff Berino, the Summit fire chief, said a massive aerial response was critical to saving the Mesa Cortina and Wildernest neighborhoods. The two DC-10 air tankers cost $50,000 an hour to operate. Six helicopters called in cost $8,000 an hour as they dropped 1,000-gallon buckets of water on hotspots. Just in the first day, the bill came to $500,000. Berino told reporters the cost was worth it.

"All of that could have gone up in smoke," he said, gesturing toward the still-standing homes and condominiums.

It wasn't as if Summit County hadn't been aware of the risk of building homes nestled in whispering lodgepole pines. For decades, the local mantra was that all chain saws were evil tools. Then, in 2002, drought hit, making the aging forests susceptible to an epidemic of bark beetles already underway. Whole hillsides had turned red by around 2006. Ultimately half the trees in Summit County were killed by 2014.

In response, local jurisdictions did an about-face in their attitudes toward cutting trees. Before, regulations limited removal of trees near homes. The new regulations aggressively encouraged the FireSmart thinking.

Still, nearly all the county, including its six towns, lie within what is commonly called the urban-wilderness interface. Just how much danger remained was made clear a year ago when a fire began in the Tenmile Range near Breckenridge. For awhile, there was a fear that the town itself could be threatened. "It was scary. It was so close," said one resident at the time. Even more extensive regulations were adopted in February.

The U.S. Forest Service has also ramped up its removal of forest trees, what the agency calls "treatments." Some of this work has been in conjunction with the Colorado Forest Service and Denver Water, in a program called Forests to Faucets.

Bill Jackson, the district ranger, reported $12 million has been spent across 12,000 acres. That work included $1 million to remove trees and other vegetation on 900 acres in the area of last week's fire. Jackson credited the fuel breaks with allowing firefighters to get the upper hand.

Although not in the area of last week's fire, Denver Water has appropriated significant sums for tree thinning in recent years. The agency gets about 30 percent of its water from Dillon Reservoir and in turn provides water for roughly a quarter of Colorado's 5.6 million residents. Last year it committed $16.5 million for the next five years to match those of the state and national forest agencies for work in Summit County and in the nearby Winter Park area, another source of Denver's water.

Rain arrived over the weekend to dampen fire risk. But before it did, many people were on edge.

"Pray for some not so nice days with some good rain," wrote Mark Reaman in the Crested Butte (Colo.) Times. In Telluride, it was the same. "The forest floor crackles underfoot, and the Valley Floor is browner than it is green," said the Telluride Daily Planet. "It is often the first subject of conversation when people meet on the streets. Sometimes the clouds roll in, but so far, they've been stingy with the rain."

Is cannabis more like alcohol or tobacco? Banff sets rules

BANFF, Alberta – Should public smoking and vaping of cannabis be treated like alcohol or tobacco?

Alberta has not yet legalized marijuana use but is expected to soon do so. In Banff and other local jurisdictions, elected officials are deciding the terms of use. Banff's council has been persuaded it should be treated more like alcohol. It cannot be used in public places; consumption is restricted to private residences and properties.

Alison Gerrits, Banff's community services director, said cannabis has elements similar to alcohol, in that it affects cognitive functioning, However, it is similar to tobacco in that it has odors but also can have second-hand smoke exposure.

"We don't allow alcohol to be consumed in the public realm, so it makes sense that the same would be true for a substance that does, in essence, have the same type of impact on cognitive ability," she said at a meeting covered by the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

Les Hagen, who directs Action on Smoking and Health, said any restrictions on cannabis use can also be easily justified for tobacco use. This is especially true, he said, if the main goal is to protect children and youth from harmful substances

"For a 5-year-old, smoking is smoking, whether it involves vaping or cigars or cigarettes or what have you," he told the elected officials. "Modeling is a very essential element to childhood development, and if we can model healthy behavior to kids, we're more likely to get healthy kids."

The Outlook points out that those U.S. states that have allowed use of cannabis still do not allow public consumption.

Taxes on Amazon sales swell treasury of Aspen

ASPEN, Colo. – In January, people making purchases in Aspen from Amazon have been paying the city sales tax under an agreement with the online marketplace. The Aspen Daily News says there's no way to say absolutely, but it looks like the added tax is producing significant revenue for the town.

Such sales would fall under the "miscellaneous" category of the city's tax reports, and those through April were up 30 percent, an increase of around $4 million.

Whistler has new program for sort-of plastic recycling

WHISTLER, Colo. – Ziplock bags, the packaging for cheese and deli-meats, and other plastic has been headed toward the landfills from Whistler and other locations in British Columbia.

But a new program to be in place by the end of 2018 will collect these smaller plastic items, sometimes called other flexible packaging. Officials tell Whistler's Pique newsmagazine that the items won't necessarily be recycled. Instead, in this pilot project, much of it will be used for other purposes, including fuel for cement kilns.

Whistler, while it has not taken the action against plastic bags of many ski towns, has a more aggressive policy that requires organic materials to be separated from trash. The former is composted, the latter is shipped to a landfill along the Columbia River several hundred miles away.

Another courthouse remodel adds new security and X-rays

ASPEN, Calif. – Pitkin County's historic courthouse, first opened in 1891, is getting a $3 million to $5 million update. Some offices are migrating to other locations, and the courthouse, which currently has two courtrooms, will have a third.

But it will also have less public access. After the remodel there will be just one door available for the public to enter, and visitors will have to submit their belongings to be examined by an X-ray machine, as has become so common in judicial buildings, state capitals, and even some city buildings around the country in recent years.

Construction worker dies in trench in Colorado town

GRANBY, Colo. – Construction sites can be dangerous, especially in trenches. A trench collapsed at a condominium project in Granby, killing a worker. No details were available about the circumstances. Another trench cave-in claimed a life in Granby in the mid-1990s, remembers Patrick Brower, former editor of the Sky-Hi News.

One small solution to the summer housing crunch

JACKSON, Wyo. – It's hardly the full answer to the housing pinch in Jackson. Hole. By allowing camping behind the community recreation center, housing is provided for a dozen town or county employees in Jackson over the summer who would otherwise be driving long commutes from towns in Idaho or perhaps crowding into already crowded forest campgrounds.

Those camping on the community land have to shower in the rec center and must share a portable toilet in the parking lot. But in old trailers loaned by parents or grandparents, the 90-day wonders, as the Jackson Hole News&Guide describes them, are getting by – and pleasantly so. The newspaper describes a sometimes grim situation of crowding in local Forest Service campgrounds. The towns in Idaho require a commute of up to an hour.

Palates and talking heads as Aspen enters high season

ASPEN, Colo. – The Food & Wine Classic wrapped up Sunday noon with a two-hour walk-around tasting brunch in Aspen. Cost was $150. Full cost of the three-day festival was $1,700.

Food & Wine Magazine explained that the brunch was based on a year-long road trip by editors in search of America's most exciting, important, and delicious new restaurants. This tasting session revealed what they came up with.

And so Aspen has launched into its high summer season. This week, the Aspen Ideas Festival begins on Thursday, continuing for 10 days. Think of non-stop TED talks under four circus tents and you kind of have the nature of this festival devoted to talking and thinking with some of the most provocative people around.

On the final day, for example, Katie Couric will interview James Comey, whom you surely have heard about if you pay attention to U.S. politics. He is, according to President Donald Trump, part of the conspiracy out to get him.

Ticket prices range from $1,000 for students to $10,000 for patrons.

That's just one of two festivals underway in the Aspen area this week. Another is much more centered on energy issues, in particular, and the environment more broadly.

Later in the summer, easier-to-swallow $25 admission fees will allow the locals to hear about politics from a panel of Democratic governors, from nuclear physicist and former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, and from the architect Frank Gehry, and Michael Eisner, who ran Disney for 21 years before moving onto other entertainment ventures. The latter two be talking about creating space for music.