Mountain News: Bison in Banff 

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BANFF, Alberta — If bison gets reintroduced to Banff National Park next year, as Parks Canada intends, North America's migratory birds will benefit.

That's one of the take-aways from a recent talk in Banff by Wes Olsen, who was described by the Rocky Mountain Outlook as one of the world's foremost authorities on bison reintroduction.

"Most species co-evolved with bison over the long term from the Pleistocene era to now, and most were dependent in varying degrees on bison," said Olsen. "Every newly established bison population is going to re-establish those ecosystems linkages and hopefully bring those systems into a healthy balance."

Bison were once plentiful in both the Rocky Mountains and on the Great Plains. In 1844, when the U.S. explorer John Charles Fremont returned from California, he arrived in what is now Colorado in early June. He wrote about following buffalo trails through North, Middle, and South parks in Colorado — including along the Blue River in what is today's Summit County.

On the Great Plains, bison tended to be a little larger. But in both places, they were nearly extinct by the late 1880s, killed primarily by market hunters, at first for their meat but then simply for their hides and bones. At the end, there were just 23 animals.

Writing in a new book called American Serengeti: The Last Big Animals of the Great Plains, Dan Flores reported a symbiosis of pronghorn and bison. Pronghorn herds were as large as those of buffalo, he said.

In Banff, Olsen similarly postulated about how ungulates such as deer and elk benefit from bison herds. The dung from the bison provides nutrients for production of grass eaten by the ungulates.

As for those migrating birds, it works like this: The hair shed by bison during spring is used by birds in their nests, increasing survival rates for clutches of eggs. "There's been research that has shown a 30-per-cent increase in egg (and chick) survival in nests lined with bison hair versus not," he said.

Olsen said establishing populations of bison in places like Banff is important, as it creates places for birds to stop when they migrate.

In an interview with the Calgary Herald, Olsen described bison as a keystone species.

"The term keystone is a masonry term. If you visualize it as a stone arch in a fireplace or a door, it's always a wedge-shaped stone at the top — that's the keystone. If you take the keystone out of that arch, the entire structure collapses," Olsen said.

"In wildlife ecology, there are species that are keystone species. If you take them out of the system, the system collapses. Bison are a keystone species. They have an inordinate effect on every other species that live there."

Pot stores too prolific?

ASPEN, Colo. — Is it time for Aspen to put a lid on the number of stores selling cannabis? The city has seven of them now, with another one or two intending to open once they get requisite licenses.

So far, Aspen has treated cannabis stores much like it does liquor stores. Other towns, however, have applied more restrictive zoning or banned them altogether.

At a recent meeting covered by the Aspen Daily News, Mayor Steve Skadron indicated concerns about the proliferating pot shops. He explained that the profit margins appear to be high, allowing "potpreneurs" to outbid other users, such as restaurants, for rental spaces.

"I disagree with the assertion that the free market is always good and right, and government regulation is always bad," Skadron said. "I'm reaching my own level of tolerance on how many dispensaries there are in town."

But then the push-back is this: Aspen has 89 liquor licenses.

The Daily News reported no consensus yet among council members, but also hinted at worries about the arrival of big money to the cannabis sector.

In Steamboat Springs, meanwhile, city councilman Tony Connell proposes a five-per-cent excise tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. Connell, according to Steamboat Today, wants to use the marijuana money to help address a different problem, that of opiate abuse. "It truly is an epidemic," he told the newspaper. He said local deaths caused by drug overdoses now exceed deaths resulting from car crashes.

He advocates using the estimated $500,000 additional revenue from marijuana for substance abuse programs, prevention education, mental health counselling, and law enforcement activities.

Connell is also proposing an additional city tax on certain lift tickets sold at the Steamboat Ski Area. The city already gets US$300,000 in annual contributions from Intrawest, the ski area owner, from the sale of food and beverage and miscellaneous sales outside city limits. However, he thinks the city should get more and cites the $4.7 million annually paid to the town of Vail through a lift-ticket tax. In Steamboat, Connell's proposal would generate roughly $2.7 million.

Who's in charge of the name?

PARK CITY, Utah — In Park City, there's continued discussion about the filing by Vail Resorts to trademark the city's name when applied to the name of a mountain resort.

The Park Record reported that a former mayor, Dana Williams, was among several individuals or business interests who have submitted paperwork to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, indicating interest in potentially opposing Vail.

In an interview with the paper, Williams said the trademark move is an attempt to "take a name away from a community and turn it into a corporate logo."

The city council has not yet taken a position.

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