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Mountain News: Hemp seeds planted, but will feds uproot?

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Ryan Loflin, who lives in Crested Butte, returned to his roots recently in southeastern Colorado.
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CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. — Ryan Loflin, who lives in Crested Butte, returned to his roots recently in southeastern Colorado. There, near the town of Springfield, he began planting what is believed to be the first hemp grown in the United States in 60 years.

While legal in Canada, U.S. federal law bans production of hemp, which contains trace quantities of THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana. However, Colorado voters have been thumbing their collective noses at the federal government. The new state constitutional amendment adopted last November legalizes possession of marijuana, but also production in small quantities. It also allows production of hemp without limitation.

Springfield, the setting for this 21st century precedent, in no way resembles the popular, John Denverish image of Colorado. Some of the worst storms of the Dust Bowl occurred here. It's a half-hour from Oklahoma and Kansas, just a little farther to New Mexico, and even Texas is just 129 kilometres away.

Loflin, 40, left Springfield for a career in construction, and the Crested Butte News says he has had many enterprises there. Earlier this year, he began growing 450 hemp plants at his shop and imported 70 pounds of seed from Europe.

With this, Loflin and a business partner planted a quarter-acre of hemp last week, and the seeds are already coming up, he reports. By June, he hopes to have planted 66 to 70 acres.

"Things around here have been hurting," he told the Crested Butte News, describing his boyhood hometown. "I really think hemp production could be one of the things that brings an economic recovery to rural Colorado, and next spring I think more people will be planting it."

Blistered by drought, eastern Colorado has suffered in recent years. Hemp only needs 20 centimetres of water, but it does better in 25 to 36 centimetres. The average precipitation there is 43 centimetres. Too, hemp doesn't need fertilization or pesticides.

One major question is just how much flouting of federal law drug agents will tolerate by Coloradans. Banks have refused to float loans to retail dispensaries, for fear of harmful repercussions to their access to the federal banking system. For much the same reasons, Colorado State University has refused to conduct research that could help promote hemp. The school fears loss of federal research dollars.

Loflin told the News that he doesn't worry much about federal drug agents stalking his plot. Too much else is in play, including larger cultivation of marijuana with high concentrations of THC. "I doubt they'll bother with a little hemp growing operation," he says.

But if the crop gets harvested, Loflin and his partner will have buyers. Whole Foods, the national grocer, has contracted to buy seed from 50 acres. Oil constitutes 30 to 35 per cent of seeds, by weight, and contains high concentrations of essential fatty acids Another 10 acres of seed is earmarked for Dr. Bronner's, a line of hemp-infused body-care products.

One strike and bear is out

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — A 159-kilogram black bear paid the ultimate price for following its nose. The bear was shot after it entered a garage and then a house in Incline Village, on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

The Sierra Sun reports that the 92-year-old woman who lived there saw the bear as she descended a staircase in a motorized wheelchair. She then left and called the sheriff's office from a neighbour's house.

Nevada, like other states, employs a three-strike rule in deciding whether to kill bears. This bear had been without fault before, but the one strike that's not tolerated is entering a house.

A spokesman for the Nevada Department of Wildlife said that a neighbour indicated that the elderly woman "sometimes leaves garbage in the garage ... and has occasionally seen a bear getting into trash inside."

Too hard for bears, but easy enough for humans

ASPEN, Colo. — Is there a better trash receptacle? Aspen thinks so, and it had good reason to find out.

The Aspen Times notes that local police responded to 1,040 calls last year regarding problems with bears. While some bears roamed alleys at night, others climbed crab-apple trees in downtown areas in broad daylight. Others pillaged the town's street-side trash receptacles.

Some thought was devoted to the design of those trash receptacles, to allow people to deposit trash easily enough but without allowing bears to retrieve the trash. But the bears have outwitted the designers.

So, it's back to the drawing board. Aspen city officials tell the newspaper that they do believe they have a new design that strikes the proper balance: too hard for bears but not too hard for humans.

Twitter lawsuit

KETCHUM, Idaho — A couple in Ketchum are unhappy, as evident in a lawsuit they have filed against Twitter, the San Francisco-based company, and the local Sun Valley Co.

The Idaho Mountain Express explains that the couple had adopted the Twitter handle @SunValley. Two years after, the Sun Valley Co., which operates the ski area of the same name, contacted Twitter and objected. It wanted to use the Twitter handle and, besides, the couple were using the resort's trademarked sun logo.

Twitter went along with the request. The lawsuit filed by Erin Smith, an attorney, and her husband, Leonard Barshack, says that's just not right.

Big Sky's boost in electrical demand

BIG SKY, Mont. — Talk about a boom. Electricity demand at Big Sky, the ski area and community between Bozeman and West Yellowstone, grew 60 per cent during the last decade.

Because of that demand growth and the vulnerability of powerlines to falling trees, electrical provider NorthWestern Energy plans for a two-year, $34 million upgrade to the transmission line. Work is expected to begin in late May. Most of the 56-kilometre line from Ennis crosses the Gallatin National Forest, notes the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

Demand could continue to grow. Bob Foster, general manger of Lone Mountain Ranch, a cross-country skiing getaway at Big Sky, told the newspaper of talk about a branch hospital and a larger grocery store. Having more reliable electricity, plus an expanded sewer and water system, would help enable both.

permanent place for scientists

TELLURIDE, Colo. — Just 18 scientists showed up for Telluride Science Research Center first workshop in 1985. It has since blossomed into a major gathering place for scientists, with 1,200 expected at 48 meetings this year.

The Telluride Science Research Center could get bigger yet. The center's director, Nan Naisbitt, recently appeared before the Telluride Town Council with more concrete plans for a 30,000-square-foot facility. The Daily Planet explains the center wants to use town-owned land to create a 200-person auditorium, five classrooms, and a café.

There would also be apartments for staff and lodging for scientists in residence.

It all sounds good, but now comes the hard part of raising money to get the project off the ground.

U.S. Everest survivors recall ascent

JACKSON, Wyo. — This is the 50th anniversary of the first successful U.S. summit of Mt. Everest. Many members of that party remain alive, among them Dick Pownall.

In 1963 he was roped to Jake Breitenbach as they attempted to navigate the treacherous Khumbu Icefall on their way to the South Col of Everest.

"The mood was perfect," Pownall recalled at a gathering of the surviving Everest veterans in Jackson Hole recently. "What a great time we were having."

It was on the second day of climbing, and Pownall and Breitenbach had been picked as the strongest team for a summit bid.

Pownall said he took the rope. The way ahead "looks spooky," he said he told Breitenbach. "Take a look around that corner."

Breitenbach advanced. The icefall shifted and collapsed. Breitenbach was crushed, and Pownall lived, if buried by snow himself, only his hand betraying his location. He was covered for 30 minutes and did not gain consciousness until the next day.

"It happened so suddenly," Pownall said. "The was no pain, no emotion."

Jim Whittaker ended up with the distinction of being the first American atop Everest. He was also the first full-time employee of REI, the sporting goods cooperative, and in the 1960s was the chief executive.

The Jackson Hole News&Guide says that Kit DesLauriers, with legendary mountaineering achievements of her own, including a ski ascent of Mt. Everest, moderated the forum attended by 400 people. She asked how did the Everest expedition change the surviving team members?

Whittaker recalled seeing beauty in a single blade of green grass after living for months in a world of ice, snow and rock. "What a beautiful damn planet," he said. "Get the kids out. No child left inside."

Pownall returned from Asia to Colorado, where he was a teacher and then school administrator in suburbs of Denver. On weekends, he built a house on a lot located at the new ski resort of Vail.

The Everest expedition, he said, gave him "the sense of the importance of life and friends."

As for not being the first U.S. climber on Everest, as might well have happened if not for the tragedy on the second day of the climb, he admitted to disappointment that has grown.

But it has never overwhelmed Pownall. In several interviews with this writer during the last 25 years, that disappointment was always the most minor of notes, one almost beyond hearing.

At his appearance in Jackson Hole, he put it another way. But for fate, he might have been the one crushed by ice.

"You're looking at the luckiest climber on the expedition," he says.