Mountain News: At the intersection of bluegrass and carbon ranching 

click to enlarge WWW.SHUTTERSTOCK.COM - Bluegrass Organizers of the Telluride Bluegrass festival are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint
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  • Bluegrass Organizers of the Telluride Bluegrass festival are taking steps to reduce their carbon footprint

TELLURIDE, Colo.—Telluride and Lamar are both towns in Colorado, located eight hours apart when driving. Until now they had little in common.

Lamar is on the Great Plains, too far east to see the Rocky Mountains. It's a farm town where local retirees go every morning to sip coffee and trade gossip at the McDonalds.

Telluride is located in a box canyon of the San Juan Mountains. Oprah has a US$14 million home nearby.

It's almost non-stop festivals through the summer. The largest is the four-day Telluride Bluegrass, which last week drew 15,000 people.

Organizers of Telluride Bluegrass have been conscious of the carbon footprint of the festival itself, as well as those of its attendees. Since 2007, organizers have been buying offsets, a financial device that seeks to transfer money from those with carbon footprints to actions that remove or at least avoid carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

In prior years, for example, Planet Bluegrass—the sponsor of the concert—has paid for offset that went to projects that sought to contain methane emissions from landfills and from dairy farms.

Over the years, Planet Bluegrass has expanded its net. In addition to offsetting the cost of electricity use at Telluride, for example, it now seeks to offset the travel of the 15,000 attendees. The majority come from Denver and other cities along the Front Range of Colorado, but there are attendees from every state and even London. Unless they drive electric cars fueled entirely by electricity from renewable sources, every traveller has a carbon footprint.

Carbon accountants estimate that 87 per cent of the carbon footprint of the festival comes from its "festivarians." The balance is from travel of performers as well as the more local impact in the Telluride area.

This year, Planet Bluegrass teamed with Telluride's Pinhead Institute in an effort to keep at least some of the carbon offset dollars within Colorado. No financial details were divulged, but the Pinhead Institute reported transactions that offset the festival 2,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Part of the offset money will go to the May Ranch near Lamar.

What has the May Ranch done to deserve the payment? Essentially nothing—which is the point. A conservation easement was placed on the ranch in 2016 that precludes the 14,500 acres of uninterrupted native prairie from being farmed. It must remain in grass. Cattle can be grazed on it, but the soil must remain intact.

The grasses draw carbon dioxide out of the air, sequestering the carbon. Ducks Unlimited, a conservation group that shepherded the protections, calculates that plowing the native grasses to grow corn or wheat would release around 8,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year for the next 50 years. Conserving these grasslands equates to removing the annual emissions of 50,000 cars.

Bill Gascoigne, an economist with Ducks Unlimited, said the ranch is "literally surrounded on all four sides by cropland and had many offer to plow up the grasslands. We worked with our partners in the land trust community to get ahead of the plow and make sure that carbon stays in the belowground soil."

Remembering when Jim Hansen warned of warming temperatures

SALIDA, Colo.—Thirty years ago last week it was hot in Washington D.C. Aides to a U.S. senator from Colorado snuck into a hearing room the night before climate scientist James Hansen was scheduled to testify about the risk of accumulating greenhouse gas emissions.

The aides made sure that the air conditioning system would not kick on, resulting in a very hot, sweat-inducing heat when senators heard from Hansen.

Now, much of what Hansen warned about has come to pass. The Associated Press said the Earth is noticeably hotter, the weather stormier and more extreme. Polar regions have lost billions of tons of ice. Far more wildfires rage.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has reported the world's annual temperature has warmed nearly 0.54 degrees Celsius (one degree Fahrenheit) in the last 30 years.

But some places have warmed more than others. The AP's Seth Bornstein visited south-central Colorado, in the area around Salida. There, NOAA finds temperatures have warmed 1.2 degrees C on average since 1988.

Bornstein reports a pile of anecdotal evidence about what that warming means for people living in and around Salida. One individual says he had maybe four air-conditioning jobs a year when he bought his heating and cooling system company 15 years ago. Now he's got a waiting list of 10 to 15 air conditioning jobs, and may not get to them all.

Another individual cited the extremely warm weather of early last winter. "T-shirt weather in January, that never used to happen when I was a child," said the woman, a winery marketing chief in her 30s.

Actually, it did happen 30 years ago—or at least in 1981, a year of drought and warmth not unlike last winter. But the statistics about rising temperatures overall clearly don't lie.

Deep emotions triggered by ban of LGBT discrimination

JACKSON, Wyo.—Eyes welled and voices quavered in Jackson as the town council there took a major step toward banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. The law will be backed by criminal sanctions.

Mike Koshmrl of the Jackson Hole News&Guide reported a handful of opponents turned out to make their case against the law. Two pastors at local and regional churches said the law infringed upon their religious belief in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. "Our government has always protected the right of citizens to practice their faith as their conscience dictates," said the pastor of the Emmanuel Bible Church.

Such comments only stiffened the resolve of elected officials, who passed the measure unanimously. "Some of the arguments I heard tonight, they were troubling," Mayor Pete Muldoon said. "I've heard and I recall similar arguments being made by those who want to continue Jim Crow laws."

Twenty years ago, a University of Wyoming student was murdered because of his homosexuality. Two years ago, a 20-year-old native of the coal-mining town of Gillette committed suicide, said Andrew Munz, a writer and actor.

"I believe that this ordinance is a clear opportunity to flip the script and say the only default the community should promote is acceptance without limitations," said Munz.

If adopted after two subsequent votes, Jackson will follow Laramie in criminalizing discrimination. Three other Wyoming cities—including Gillette —have similar non-legally binding anti-discrimination resolutions.

Councillor Hailey Morton Levinson said that the law made her feel better about being a new mother. "I hope that in 20 years that my kids don't have to worry about discrimination for whoever they are, and I hope that this step today helps that."

Westboro church members protest at Vail-area churches

AVON, Colo.—Members of the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., have become well known across American for their protests. They show up after tragedies, such as the Sandy Hook shootings, to protest what they consider to be immoral behaviour.

The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated the church as an anti-lesbian, -gay, -bisexual and -transgender group.

For reasons not clear, members arrived at a church in Vail last Saturday and then at a church down-valley at Avon on Sunday. The Vail Daily was there, reporting that one of the signs used a pejorative for the word "prostitute" in reference to pastors of The Vail Church.

Counter-protestors had their signs, too. One of them told the Daily that the baptists from Kansas had it all backward. "If you have that much hate for somebody because of who they love, you're doing it wrong," said Andrew Miller.

416 Fire displaces even the homeless

DURANGO, Colo. —The 416 fire north of Durango, near the Purgatory ski area, doesn't seem to want to go out. It's spread again, although recent rain of up to 40 millimetres has down-graded the danger. Accordingly, federal land managers have lifted unprecedented restrictions on access to the San Juan National Forest and adjoining BLM lands.

Yet the homeless remain displaced by the fire, because of restrictions adopted by La Plata County that prohibit encampments on county land. That left the homeless that had been camping on lands with no place to go. Durango city officials this week are looking to provide places to shelter in what City Councillor Dean Brookie described as a "humanitarian effort."

Here's where it gets tricky. One of the sites Durango planned to make available for the homeless to camp is located next to the municipal dog park. That site also happens to be the former site of a uranium mill that was pressed into service during World War II in the effort to create an atomic bomb. City officials have agreed to test the site for radon.

After the fire is out, pink of flame retardant remains

FRISCO, Colo.—In the recent wildfire that threatened but did not invade two subdivisions in the wildland-urban interface of Summit County, firefighters repeatedly dropped 8,000-gallon slurries of a chemical fire retardant.

The fire retardant, pink in colour, is dropped ahead of fires, not on them, to stop their progress. Is it nasty stuff? No, reported the Summit Daily News. It actually serves as a kind of fertilizer that helps forest regeneration by boosting nitrogen and phosphates in soil. The colour faces away over time.

If on a house, though, better to wash it away before the sun bakes the pink into the house. Some things are pretty in pink, but houses less commonly so.

Easier to be a bear inside Banff rather than outside

BANFF, Alta.—Strictly by the numbers, it's much safer to be a grizzly or other kind of bear inside Banff National Park than outside of it in the Bow River Valley.

Citing a new Bow Valley wildlife co-existence report, the Rocky Mountain Outlook said just six bears have been killed inside the park during the last two decades as compared to nearly 100 bears that have been killed or relocated from the lower valley, around Canmore, outside of the park.

A recent human use study by the Town of Canmore and Alberta Environment and Parks suggest that human use has been making the area outside of the park unhealthy for wildlife. The wildlife is attracted to human garbage, of course, but also berries, crabapples, and feral rabbits. The report said those attractants should be removed. Too, having fewer elk loitering around golf courses and other places would serve to draw fewer bears.

The report also recommended closures, such as when bears have been sighted in certain areas, as they might do when feeding on berries. "The idea is the more predictable you can make it, it allows wildlife and people to better plan their activities throughout the day," explained Bill Hunt, resource conservation manager for Banff National Park.

The national park reserves the right to relocate bears to other locations, but has not done so in 20 years. Relocating bears makes them vulnerable to hunting.

First Nations Sinixt given recognition in Revelstoke

REVELSTOKE, B.C.—Before there were railroaders and logger and skiers, the area around Revelstoke was home to the Sinixt First Nation as well as three other groups of natives.

On summer solstice, National Indigenous Peoples Day in Canada, tribute was paid to the Sinixt and the changing attitudes toward those who inhabited Canada prior to the arrival of Eurocanadians. Some of that change was observed at the Revelstoke Museum and Archives.

"It's a great leap forward for us from 20 years ago when our published history did not acknowledge any First Nations territory in this area up until today, when every school child knows the names of the four First Nationals and they are acknowledged at public events," said curator Cathy English.

She told the Revelstoke Times-Review that 80 per cent of the territory held by the Sinixt was in Canada, the balance in the United States.

More of Mountain Town News can be found at http://mountaintownnews.net

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