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Mountain News: Citizen scientists help track shrinking glaciers

JACKSON, Wyo.—Citizen scientists have been participating in an effort to document the melting of the 13 glaciers and permanent snowfields in Grand Teton National Park.
Citizen Science Thirteen volunteers have been participating in an effort to document the melting of 13 glaciers and permanent snowfields in Grand Teton National Park. <a href="http://WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM">WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM</a>

JACKSON, Wyo.—Citizen scientists have been participating in an effort to document the melting of the 13 glaciers and permanent snowfields in Grand Teton National Park.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide explained that the 13 volunteers each carried a camera to capture the ice from many angles. The photos will be compiled into a single 3-D model.

Peri Sasnett, the park geologist, said this project is a test to see if both the technique works and the use of volunteers works.

"We could do this as park employees," she said. "We could run around for a few days and just take a jillion photos. But the more people we have, the more photos we have, the better the model and, of course, citizen science is a very meaningful way for people to engage with park science."

The collated images will allow scientists to better track how the glaciers add and lose mass from year to year.

Ever since the last big glacial advance, the glaciers in the Teton Range and elsewhere have waxed and waned. The most recent expansion was during the Little Ice Age, from 1300 to 1850.

Among the volunteers was Vince Anderson, an engineer in Denver.

"You can teach someone about it from a textbook and blah blah blah, but when you come up here you become a stakeholder," he told the News&Guide's Cody Cottier.

If the surroundings inspired awe, the weather even in late summer was challenging. Hurricane Pass—where some of this ice is located—was named that for a reason, Cottier noted.

Hunting guide killed by bear near elk carcass

JACKSON, Wyo.—A hunting guide from Jackson Hole was found dead last weekend after being attacked by a bear. All indications were that it was a grizzly bear, said a regional wildlife supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide reported that 37-year-old Mark Uptain was processing an elk carcass with his client when they were attacked. The elk had been killed by an arrow the previous day but the carcass had not been disturbed, suggesting the bear had not been feeding on it.

The client, who was from Florida, told authorities he tossed a handgun to the victim when the attack began and then ran away to call for help by telephone. This occurred about 10 kilometres within the Teton Wilderness area.

A second bear was in the vicinity but did not attack either man.

Parents file lawsuits

PARK CITY, Utah—Parents of a 13-year-old Park City boy who died of a drug overdose in 2016 have sued the companies they claim shipped, marketed, distributed, and sold the drug that led to the death of their son and a friend, who was also 13.

James and Deborah Seaver filed the lawsuit against the estate of the deceased Alexandre Cazes, who founded the now-defunct online dark web market AlphaBay; The Tor Project, Inc., software that enables access to the dark web; and the postal services China Postal Express & Logistics Company and Express Mail Service. The Seavers claim in the lawsuit that the defendants are liable for the death of their son, Grant.

The Park Record said the boy and his friend, Ryan Ainsworth, died within days of each other after ingesting U-47700, commonly called pink but also pinky and U4.

The Recovery Village, a website, said pink is an "extremely potent, highly dangerous synthetic opioid drug" developed in the 1970s. It is several times more powerful than morphine and is often confused with heroin or other opioid drugs.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement administration classified the drug as a Schedule I controlled substance after 46 deaths were linked to U-47700 in 2015 and 2016.

Denver's Olympics dreams may be tested at ballot box

DENVER, Colo.—A group of political organizers in Denver plans to put Colorado's potential bid for the 2030 Olympics to a public vote.

The committee appointed by Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has recommended that the state pursue a privately funded games, without direct public funding or any threat of financial losses for taxpayers. The Committee, reported The Denver Post, estimated the cost of hosting the event at $2 billion, with half that coming from the International Olympic Committee.

But the new group wants to ask Denver voters in May 2019 whether the city government can spend any public money or resources to support the Olympics. In other words, the vote will ensure that no city moneys will be used.

The Post pointed out that the committee includes an individual who shocked Denver last year by succeeding in getting a green-roofs initiative approved by voters despite the opposition of developers and the city government itself.

The committee also includes former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm. As a state senator in the early 1980s, he led the effort to reject public funding for the 1976 Winter Olympics. Denver had been named the host city, but the public vote in 1972 forced organizers to withdraw. Instead, the 1976 Olympics were held in Innsbruck.

In the early 1970s, Denver and Colorado altogether were booming in times not unlike those of today. Highways were getting more congested and rents were spiking, just as they are now.

Plenty of jobs, yes, but then panhandling is free speech

GRANBY, Colo. —"Get a job," wrote one commentator on the Sky-Hi News website last week. "In this county there is no excuse for panhandling."

What provoked the barbed comment was a Sky-Hi News story that the town of Granby, which is located between Rocky Mountain National Park and the Winter Park ski area, was planning to update its town code upon advice of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The current law bans vagrancy and defines a vagrant as "any person wandering abroad and begging, or any person who goes about from door to door or private homes or commercial and business establishments, or places himself in or upon any public way or public place to beg or receive alms for himself."

Federal courts have found such broad restrictions unconstitutional. And the ACLU points out that the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly stood behind heightened protections for free speech. The ACLU sent dozens of such letters to Colorado towns recently, including several other mountain resort towns.

Want a good job?

DURANGO, Colo.—Help Wanted signs proliferate in Durango as they do in most other mountain towns. And, at least in Colorado, nearly every place with a heartbeat.

Colorado has fewer than 100,000 unemployed workers and more than three million jobs across the state, according to Ryan Gedney, an economist with the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Colorado's current employment rate is fifth lowest in the country, at 2.8 per cent. Job growth is sixth highest, at 2.9 per cent. "To see job growth at almost 3 percent is really impressive," Gedney told the Durango Telegraph.

But while there may still be giant gaps between minimum wage and others, wages have gone up, 4.5 per cent from 2016 to 2017. "That's some of the strongest wage gains we've seen in 10 years," he said.

There's good money to be had in skilled sectors: carpenters, dry-wallers, cement workers, plumbers, and heating and air conditioning specialists.

"People aren't going into the trades anymore," said Robert Whitson, owner of Express Employment Professionals in Durango. "And those are good-paying jobs."

But then there are other jobs. A livable wage in Durango and surrounding areas is US$13.31 per hour. Durango, if not Aspen, is still a fairly expensive place to live. But then, so is Denver nowadays.

Bus drivers' wages may need to be raised

JACKSON, Wyo.—Bus drivers in Jackson Hole this winter will get bumped wages. Drivers for Start, as the bus service is called, will get US$19.25 an hour plus their choice of winter bonuses that range from US$450 to US$1,000 or a mountain ski pass. To get these perks will require an average 30 hours a week.

Larry Pardee, the town manager in Jackson, says wages may be nudged even higher if administrators get insufficient applications. The town is advertising nationally, reported the Jackson Hole News&Guide.

Pondering the impacts of a bigger airport

ASPEN, Colo.—Once again, Aspen has begun engaging in a conversation about how accessible it wants to be to the outside world.

Most of Aspen's best-heeled visitors arrive by plane at Sardy Field, just outside the town, conveniently located to both Aspen and Snowmass Village.

United, Delta, and American Airlines all use Bombardier CRJ jets that carry 70 to 78 people for direct flights from Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, among others. The smaller capacities are less of a gamble than larger planes able to accommodate far more passengers. This smaller gamble enables more flights daily, seven a day to Los Angeles and six to Chicago. These more frequent flights allow Aspen visitors to make easier connections from international flights from Australia, for example.

The problem seems to be that Bombardier's jets are getting old. Pitkin County, the operator of the airport, is under no immediate obligation to revamp the airport, to make it functional for other planes. One possibility is the Embraer's 70-seat plane called the E175, which will have wider wing spans. Like other new airplanes coming on line, it will be more fuel efficient and probably quieter, too.

But many new planes, if not necessarily larger in terms of seats, have longer wing spans. For them, the Federal Aviation Administration would require a different airport configuration. Even longer wingspans of just a few inches beyond the existing limit of 29 metres would require a different airport configuration, according to FAA regulations, one able to accommodate wingspans of up to 36 metres. The FAA said the airport cannot admit some planes but not others.

That's where at least part of the rub comes in. This new configuration would accommodate much larger aircraft, including 737s. They have capacities of 160 to 200 passengers. Whether airlines would actually use them is another matter. But, in theory, they could be used.

Then there's the cost of the reconfigured airport. In addition to runway work, a much larger airport terminal, comparable to a Walmart in size, is being discussed. Figures ranging from US$150 to US$400 million have been reported by Aspen newspapers.

The FAA commonly pays for most airport improvements, up to 90 per cent. Even in silver-heeled Pitkin County, that 10-per-cent share would be a chunk of change. Keep in mind that in Aspen, for all its renewable energy goals, elected officials several years ago balked at the cost of taking the last, final step toward 100-per-cent renewable energy for a new city building.

"We don't have to touch the runway right now. But we think there are some consequences for the community if we do not do that, in terms of how commercial air service is going to be provided in the future," County Manager Jon Peacock told the Aspen Daily News.

The prospect of any airport expansion has a way of causing heartburn in Aspen. Before his death in 2004, the writer Hunter Thompson showed up to mumble complaints in his typical colourful fashion.

Despite his complaints, in 2011 the runway was lengthened 305 metres. The result was not larger aircraft but planes that could fly longer distances, because they were able to have more fuel when taking off. This is especially important in the heat of summer.

But it's not just eccentric writers who complain. The Daily News observed that the airport has long been the fulcrum for tensions about whether Aspen is a resort or a community. There's also the debate about the convenience of transportation vs. the impacts to the local community in the form of noise.

The Aspen Skiing Co. has made clear the outcome it wants to see. The company's chief executive, Mike Kaplan, said at a meeting recently covered by The Aspen Times that it wants an upgrade.

"If you look at what things were like in 1995—the aircraft technology was very different, airport operations were very different, security requirements were very, very different," Kaplan said. "All those standards have changed, but the airport has not."

Wolf not wary of humans

BANFF, Alta.—Don't wolves know they're supposed to be afraid of people? That's the question that came up after a collared female wolf walked into a campground and looked for food.

"She walked between two people sleeping out in the open, coming within one metre of them, and then she left the campground," said Jesse Whittington, a wildlife ecologist with Banff National Park.

"She was not interested in people. She was clearly investigating the site for food, but she did not get any food rewards," he told the Rocky Mountain Outlook.

What concerned Banff officials more was that she continued to visit several sites looking for food even as people followed her with flashlights.

This story might not turn out well for this wolf. Both the wolf's mother and sister were killed by wildlife managers after they food-conditioned, meaning they made a habit of wandering into campgrounds. Her father, more wary of humans, was not. He remained alive.

"Hopefully they get a chance to condition her if she comes anywhere near people and put that little bit of fear back into her," wildlife photographer John Marriott said.