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Mountain News: Aspen swarmed by bears

ASPEN, Colo. - A half-century ago, it was considered high entertainment to feed the bears in Yellowstone National Park. People stopped their cars, rolled down their windows and fed black bears.

ASPEN, Colo. - A half-century ago, it was considered high entertainment to feed the bears in Yellowstone National Park. People stopped their cars, rolled down their windows and fed black bears. At the landfills - which were then called "dumps" - bleachers were erected so that visitors could watch the bears as they arrived at dusk.

No bleachers have been erected at the Pitkin County Landfill but bears are common enough. The Aspen Daily News reports that as many as 15 black bears feast nightly on trash.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife says it's OK with wildlife biologists - or at least it's the lesser of problems. "We've got so many other problems we're dealing with and so many other holes we're trying to plug up that the landfill is just not something we are going to deal with right now," said Randy Hampton, an agency spokesman.

Pitkin County has not built a bear-proof fence around the landfill. But Larry Rather, who happens to be a fencing contractor, claims hypocrisy on the part of the county. A 2007 law mandates that garbage from home and businesses be kept in bear-proof containers. The ticket for a first offense is $350.

"What bothers me is that they will harass me and ticket me for 350 bucks if I have an open trash can, but the dump is the biggest open trash can here - and it's owned by the county," he said.

Wildlife and county officials argue that if the bears weren't at the landfill, they would be at Aspen Village, a nearby subdivision. At least in this case, they say, the bears have not associated their food with housing.

Aspen has been swarmed by bears this summer, and gauging by the calls to police, far more so than in 2007, another year when the natural food selection was sparse. One bear last week climbed into a cottonwood tree on a pedestrian mall in downtown Aspen and stayed more than 12 hours. And on Monday, a bear crawled onto a deck where a woman was sleeping, put a hole into her leg, then fled - but not far enough. It crawled into a tree, and wildlife officials later killed it.

Wildlife officials estimate 20 to 30 bears have been breaking into houses, eating in restaurant trash containers and destroying cars in search of food. The situation has become such that state wildlife officials want local police and sheriff's deputies to have authority to kill bears in certain situations.

As for Yellowstone, decades ago wildlife officials realized that allowing bears to eat at the landfill resulted in bears becoming accustomed to eating human food. The bleachers were removed, the landfill fenced, and eventually the traffic jams that resulted as people stopped to feed the bears ended.

Vail recruiting fewer foreign workers

BROOMFIELD, Colo. - Vail Resorts expects to hire 70 per cent fewer workers from foreign countries this year. For a number of years it has arranged for H2B and other visas for workers to fill slots it can't otherwise fill at the offered wages. But with more U.S. citizens unemployed or underemployed, it doesn't need as many foreigners, company officials say.

The company has 16,000 employees, about four per cent of them from international locations. The company has the greatest difficulty filling housekeeping and food-and-beverage jobs, which are mostly seasonal. As well, the company uses foreign workers in its ski schools, because of the communication skills needed for an international clientele. Their foreign workers speak 30 languages. Some specific jobs, such as operating winch snow groomers, also require skills that U.S. citizens may not have, said the company's Kelly Ladyga.

Vail operates four ski areas in Colorado, another one in California, and has a lodging property in Wyoming's Teton County.

Aspen to stress adventure

ASPEN, Colo. - The Aspen Skiing Co. has decided to shift its advertising message this year. Instead of emphasizing the need to reduce greenhouse gases, a campaign called "Save Snow," the company will be stressing the adventure of skiing.

In print advertisements, that translates into photographs showing snow riders hiking up Highland Bowl, an area of double-black-diamond ski trails, their skis and snowboards on their backs.

The Aspen Times reports that this isn't a black-and-white switch. Aspen Skiing plans to continue its environmental emphasis in some sectors, including direct-mail pieces sent to 400,000 addresses. But adventure, not climate, is now on centre stage.

As well, Aspen plans to ramp up its marketing, although Jeanne Mackowski, the vice president of marketing, declined to disclose the budget increase at a recent community forum.

The company also plans some new products, including an offer for kids to ski and stay for free during March - if adults book a vacation by Jan. 15.

Travel industry expert Ralf Garrison has warned ski industry marketers that this coming winter will likely be a rough, similar to March during last season. He reports that some ski area operators have been putting their very best offers out in the market early, while others may be waiting, saving their resources for the 11th hour in the booking cycle.

Aspen's "kids in March" program appears to be well conceived, he says. "While historically a strong month, March underperformed last year, and with uncertain market conditions, they are rightly taking nothing for granted," Garrison says.

Revelstoke improving air quality

REVELSTOKE, B.C. - With ambitions to become a major destination ski town, Revelstoke has been cleaning up its air in recent years.

Older wood-burning stoves were replaced by newer ones that burn the wood more efficiently, allowing fewer microscopic particles to flit into the air - and into lungs. The wood-waste burners at local sawmills have ceased operation.

Idling of cars and trucks for more than five minutes has been banned. While some truck drivers no doubt disagree, distributors of the Cummins diesel engine say it's absolutely not necessary to idle trucks.

Next up, reports the Revelstoke Times Review, is control of dust. A recent municipal report suggested more frequent road washing, encouraging barren lots to be covered with vegetation, and using larger-sized aggregate to sand roads during winter.

It's time to get scared

ASPEN, Colo. - Once the shouting about health-care reform subsides, the U.S. Senate this fall will take up legislation aimed at curbing the enormous U.S. appetite for fossil fuels, a major constituent in the accumulating of greenhouse gas emissions.

At the Aspen Renewable Energy Day conference, that proposed legislation - called the Waxman-Markey bill - was dismissed as feeble. Still, conference speakers said it was at least a step in the right direction, reports the Aspen Daily News .

"If I were in Congress I would vote for what's there - I would hold my nose and vote for it," said Sam Wyly, a billionaire who founded Green Mountain Energy.

Others said that the message to the public from those concerned about greenhouse gases has to be about fear and jobs.

"This country seems to respond to fear," said Wesley Clark, the former supreme allied commander of NATO and briefly a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

"You can't look at the facts on climate change without understanding and feeling profoundly that we are in a very dangerous situation. We need to get some of that fear out there," said Clark.

But the flip-side of fear has to be about optimism, specifically about the potential to create jobs in what an aide to Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter three years ago dubbed the New Energy Economy. President Barack Obama picked up the phrase from Ritter and has used it with great regularity.

In his talk at the same conference, Ritter cited Abound Solar as an example of job creation. Located north of Denver, the firm began with a $15 million federal research grant, which in turn helped produce $150 million in private investment. The company, which produces solar modules, has now produced more than 200 research and manufacturing jobs.

Most greenhouse gases are created in generating electricity or heating buildings. Burning oil in cars and trucks is a lesser source. Still, Clark maintained that U.S. dependence on foreign oil sources is a national security threat.

"If we don't do something to get ourselves off of foreign oil, we're going to be stuck in Afghanistan and Iraq forever," Clark said at the Aspen conference. He went onto say that the Gulf War, 9/11 and the U.S. invasion of Iraq all had to do with U.S. dependence on foreign oil. "A lot of people's sons and daughters are out there fighting because we can't create a New Energy Economy. We need to do it, and we need to do it quickly. It's important for national security."

Hunters getting new bullets

JACKSON, Wyo. - A group called One Percent for the Tetons was created three years ago in Jackson Hole with 30 members who had agreed to give 1 per cent of total revenues to support environmental projects. Among the $125,000 given this year in grants was $20,000 to provide free bullets to all hunters in Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge during the hunting season.

If that sounds paradoxical to you, take comfort. You're not alone. The Jackson Hole News & Guide, however, explains the logic: the lead bullets used by most hunters pollute the environment and, possibly, hunters and their families. Better are the copper bullets that will be distributed.

The group also gave grants to encourage low-water landscaping, the planting of trees, an energy efficiency project, and installation of a residential wetland wastewater treatment system on an existing home.

Yvon Chouinard, who helped dream up the concept of One Percent for the Planet, noted that six per cent of all members are in the Jackson Hole chapter. He attributed success of the local chapter to Jonathan Schechter, executive director of the Charture Institute.

Geoexchange systems touted

PARK CITY, Utah - Building experts say that whether old or new structures, the most economical way to reduce energy use - and hence lessen your own complicity in producing greenhouse gases - is to use energy wisely and efficiently. That mostly involves distinctly unglamorous work: caulking leaks in the building's envelope, blowing cellulose insulation into your attic, and dozens of other tactics.

But, for tapping renewable energy, one of the quickest paybacks on investments comes from ground-source heat pumps, also known as geoexchange. The idea is to use the residual heat of the ground eight to 10 feet below the surface through winter months. In summer, if air conditioning is truly necessary, the reverse can be done.

The Park Record reports about 12 such geoexchange systems have been installed in the Park City area.

In Idaho, planners in Blaine County - home to Ketchum and Sun Valley - have been reviewing a proposed law that would govern the placement of wind turbines on exurban lots. The general proposition, reports the Idaho Mountain Express, is that the larger the lot, such as 5 or 10 acres, the taller the permitted tower. Towers need to be above surrounding trees and buildings, as that's where the wind blows.

In Colorado, officials in Eagle County hope to get federal stimulus money to map potential for wind turbine power generation in Eagle County. County officials also have applied for federal aid to install solar thermal panels that can harvest heat from atop the county's justice centre in Eagle, located 30 miles downvalley from Vail. The county also hopes for another wad of cash for erection of photovoltaic panels at a community center in the Eagle Valley.

Trees coming down

SILVERTHORNE, Colo. -- The U.S. Forest Service hopes to begin removing trees within 200 feet of transmission lines and 75 feet from distribution lines in northwestern Colorado, where 95 per cent of lodgepole pine forests are expected to die because of fungus spread by bark beetles now in an epidemic population. The Forest Service estimates it has 500 miles of such power lines on its lands, including 40 miles of power lines in designated roadless areas.

Officials ready for nasty flu

TELLURIDE, Colo. - Doctors and public health officials in San Miguel County continue preparations for the swine flu. Dr. David Homer, the San Miguel County health officer, said officials walk the line, wanting neither to cry wolf nor be unprepared.

This year, reports The Telluride Watch, people at high risk of contracting the swine-flu virus will be advised to get three vaccinations, one of the regular seasonal flu, and then two for the swine flu, but in doses a month apart.

But there won't be enough to go around, so those at highest risk will get first priority. Counterintuitively, those aged 19 to 24 will be at the first of the line among healthy people, and those who are 52 or older will go to the back of the line. That's because anyone alive in 1957 was likely exposed to a similar strain of swine flu circulating that year. That exposure gave them higher immunity to recurrent strains of the same flu.