Mountain News: Small wetlands on ski trail has a huge biodiversity 

Compiled by Allen Best

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Something of an outdoor museum in Telluride’s new intermediate expansion area, Prospect Bowl, is being monitored by a wetlands expert. The wetlands, called fens, are 10,000 old. And, although only a few acres in size, the fens support 20 per cent of all plant species in Colorado, says Dr. David Cooper of the University of Colorado.

"They support an unbelievably high proportion of the biodiversity in Colorado given their miniscule area," Cooper told The Telluride Watch. "For plants, but for animals as well," he added.

Like peat bogs, fens are created over a long time, in this case at a rate of about eight inches per thousand years. Unlike peat bogs, however, fens are fed by groundwater constantly and completely, so that oxygen does not reach the plant waste, thus preventing decomposition. Hence, the great biodiversity.

One part of Cooper’s work is to determine whether the ski area expansion is affecting the fens. Ski runs cross the fens, and so the snow is compacted. As such, the snow becomes a conductor and the soils begin to freeze. "These soils may not have frozen at any time in the last 10,000 years," Cooper said. "We’re concerned with how it may affect plant growth."

Nonetheless, Cooper said he is sure the ski area development has not jeopardized the fens. "They have done a phenomenal job of altering their plans and approaches in ski area development and landscape management," he said of the ski area operator, Telluride Ski & Golf Corp.

The ski area was required to pay for Cooper’s work, at $100,000, as part of a court-supervised settlement for an intrusion to wetlands elsewhere near Telluride. A county government and two towns are also chipping in $5,000 each.

Avalanche school teaches lessons learned in Canada

SILVERTON, Colo. — The San Juan Mountains of Southwestern Colorado may have the most avalanche-prone snowpack in the United States. Certainly, the highway that traverses the west side of the mountains, Highway 550, can claim that distinction.

It’s only appropriate that the nation’s oldest avalanche school is located in Silverton. Founded in 1962, the school’s students have changed little over the decades, but the depth of snow science has.

Still, knowing what causes avalanches is not the same thing as taking care to avoid them, points out the Durango Telegraph. A recent study in Canada showed that 75 per cent of avalanche fatality victims had received some avalanche-awareness training. Survivors again and again told of their drive to cut first tracks overwhelming their logic and good planning.

The Silverton Avalanche School has reviewed this finding and adjusted its curriculum accordingly. "People need to understand that backcountry travel is a constant series of decisions," says Bruce Conrad, director of the school.


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