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Deep snow, steep slope complicated plane-crash rescue near Aspen

By the time Mountain Rescue Aspen volunteers made it within a half-mile of a small plane crash Monday evening near Lenado, it was pitch dark, snowing heavily and the wind was blowing hard.

Seven teams of rescuers — 25 people in all — had been breaking trail through waist-deep snow and were coming at the plane’s reported GPS coordinates at about 9,400 feet from different directions, Patrol Capt. Jesse Steindler of the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday.

“At that point, we called the pilot (on his cellphone) and asked him to turn on as many lights (in the plane) as he could,” Steindler said. “It was those lights that attracted the rescuers to the location.”

The plane — a 2017 Cirrus SR22T — had been flying Monday afternoon from Aspen to Eagle County when, the pilot later told authorities, his instruments “went haywire” and indicated the plane’s engine was stalling, Steindler said. The pilot, 50-year-old Tyler Noel of Verona, Wisconsin, later said he didn’t think the plane was actually stalling, though he only had seconds to decide whether to deploy the plane’s parachute, which he did, he said.

The plane — which also was carrying Noel’s 49-year-old wife, Kristina — came down deep in the forest on a heavily wooded, long, steep mountainside, Steindler said.

“I can’t emphasize enough how steep it was,” he said.

The tower at the Aspen-Pitkin County airport notified emergency dispatchers of the crash at 3:25 p.m., which it said was about five miles north of Aspen in the Woody Creek area, according to a Sheriff’s Office news release. The Noels reported they were uninjured and sheltering inside the plane, though they were not equipped to spend the night in that condition, the release states.

“The rescuers reported that the aircraft was lodged on a very steep slope amidst a forest of pine trees,” according to the release.

The airplane’s parachute was tangled in the trees above the plane and was holding the aircraft in place and keeping it from sliding down the slope, Steindler said.

Rescuers, however, were able to extricate the couple, who were cold and suffering from wet gloves, from the plane without any issues. Mountain Rescue volunteers brought extra clothes, snowshoes, food and water for the Noels, then guided them out of the wilderness starting about 9:15 p.m., Steindler said.

The hike out took about three hours, he said.

“It was very difficult for Mountain Rescue just getting there, then getting back out again,” Steindler said.

A message left Tuesday for the Noels seeking comment was not returned.

Cirrus airplanes are apparently one of the few that feature a parachute. The so-called “ballistic recovery system” was developed by BRS Aerospace and comes standard on Cirrus planes, according to BRS website.

The system has saved 422 lives to date, according to the BRS site.


Immigrant Stories: Writing books to help children heal

Intro: Nancy Bo Flood is the great-granddaughter of Czech and Italian immigrants, a child therapist and the author of 20 books, many of them for children and young adults.

Bo Flood: I was born in Braidwood, Illinois, in a town that was divided because the Czech and the Italians didn’t get along. So my parents’ story was a little bit of Romeo and Juliet. The Catholic Italians are not supposed to mingle with the Protestant Czech. Well, they did, and I’m glad of it.

My dad was a coach, a teacher. He loved basketball and teaching math. Eventually we moved closer to Chicago. That’s where I met my husband, Bill. I was in graduate school, and he was in medical school. We had this dream to travel around the world. So we saved our pennies, and we did just that.

It’s funny to think about how young we were, but we really did fall in love. He continued on to the University of Illinois and was one of their gymnastic competitors. I eventually went on to Beloit College, but all this time, we stayed in correspondence.

Gallacher: Why did you go to Beloit?

Bo Flood: Because it was a place my parents could help me afford, and I got a really good scholarship. I became very interested in the study of the brain.

Gallacher: Did you go there with that intent?

Bo Flood: I wanted to be in science, but I was studying animal behavior because I also am very interested in animals. Animal behavior is so informative in terms of human behavior.

I was also studying about autistic children and looking at the problems with memory and emotion, the control of emotion, and motivation to learn.

Gallacher: So did you know where you were headed with this study?

Bo Flood: Oh, no. I didn’t put that together to start with, nor did I foresee eventually writing books for children even though reading and writing was a passion of mine.

From the very beginning, I loved reading. I have five brothers and a sister, and my older brother got to go to kindergarten first, but when he came home, he would teach me to read because I wanted to read just like he did. So he taught me to read. I loved books.

I started writing letters to my grandmother. She never left the state of Illinois, except once. What I loved doing was describing and telling her about a place so she could be there, too. It was probably one of the best trainings for me, in terms of being a writer. I would ask myself, “What would grandma notice?” I wanted her to be able to see it, hear it, smell it and taste it.

Then as I did research with children, I became more and more interested in intervention. “OK. How can we make this better for kids?” I found that probably one of the most powerful ways is through story. One thing that children do, if they have a traumatic event or an exciting event, they tell and tell and tell. Until you just want to cover your ears because they’re still talking about it.

Gallacher: And they play it out.

Bo Flood: Yes, they act it, whether it’s with their dolls or with their stuffed animals. They keep playing it out until there’s some kind of mastery or some sense of understanding, which is what story is all about.

So, I thought, “The power of story informs us and also heals us.” And I realized, “This is what I want to do.”

Gallacher: Where were you when you had that realization?

Bo Flood: I was here in Glenwood Springs. I was part of a child and family counseling center. As I was working with kids, especially children who had been abused at a young age. I watched them doing exactly what you said, replay and replay, and eventually change the story.

It takes a lot of retelling before a child gets to that point, to that sense of empowerment. I realized that using good stories can really help children see and experience. It gives them another alternative, maybe scream or yell or run out or go to somebody who can help them, someone they can trust.

Gallacher: So you wanted to tell stories that would help kids, like the little girl that you were, sit down with a book that guides you or helps you feel like you’re not alone.

Bo Flood: Yes. In fact, one of my stories, that took me a long time to talk about, was when I was only 7 and my younger sister was 5. She was killed crossing a street.

Gallacher: Oh, I’m so sorry.

Bo Flood: I was, as all children are, profoundly affected when there’s a death in the family. As a child, I realized that you also lose your parents for a while. My parents were lost in grief.

I think it was my grandmother who was able to reassure me that, in time, my parents would be back. They never left physically, but they were not reachable for me.

I also felt profoundly responsible for my sister’s death because I had gotten angry with her the night before, and I thought that I caused her death. I felt that it was my fault that this terrible thing had happened, so I never told anyone.

Years later, I was talking to my youngest brother who was only 3 at the time of the accident. He was with my sister when the accident happened. For the first time we were talking about that experience, and he said, “It was my fault.”

I said, “Oh, Tom, all these years we have both carried that.” If there had been a story to help us, to help us even open that conversation, to talk about how we really felt, and to maybe share and retell the story.

Gallacher: It’s not restricted to children, is it? It’s the survivor guilt that people have when someone dies, and they feel like it should have been them in some way.

Bo Flood: You’re exactly right. It should have been me. My sister was the cute one. My sister was charming, and little, and wonderful. I wasn’t wonderful. Why didn’t I die? You’re absolutely right.

Gallacher: How did you get through it?

Bo Flood: Well, I think I didn’t really get through it until I was older and started writing about it.

Gallacher: So all this led to the storyteller in you.

Bo Flood: I have always loved stories. I can remember sitting on my grandmother’s lap when I was upset, and she would sing to me or tell me a story. There was nothing more soothing than my grandma’s lap.

Gallacher: Well, it is the essence of us, isn’t it? We are all storytellers.

Bo Flood: I feel that way. The book I’m working on right now is called “Many Ways We Tell Our Stories,” because every group of people I’ve ever been with wants to tell their stories. The Navajo people are great storytellers.

Gallacher: You and Bill have lived and worked in the Navajo Nation for 20 years. What has kept you there?

Bo Flood: Good question, because we thought we were going to go for two or maybe three years. One part of it was the land, and the other was the Navajo people. They taught us so much. I think we both felt so welcomed. We learned so much about life from them.

One of the people I learned from was Rose Tahe. Rose was someone close to my age. She was a substitute teacher when I met her. I was teaching for Dine College and also for Northern Arizona University. She was working her special certification in reading. She already had her master’s. She was a remarkable woman.

She was fluent in Navajo and English, written and spoken. She wanted to create stories for children because she felt books were so important to healing. I had started a writing group, and Rose was part of it. She and I began working on a very special story about the Navajo tradition that celebrates a baby’s first laughter.

Laughter is sacred to the Navajo. They believe it makes us fully human. It’s a way of healing. So whoever gets a baby to laugh first becomes a special person, like a godparent to that child.

After the child’s first laugh there is a special ceremony. Everyone gathers and the parents prepare a special basket that has the salt that has been collected from the earth.

During the ceremony, each of the guests is given a little piece of salt on their tongue. The salt reminds them that we always share whatever we have, and we take care of each other.

Gallacher: That’s beautiful. So the laugh is sacred?

Bo Flood: Yes, a very sacred thing. So the book that Rose and I wrote is “First Laugh, Welcome Baby.” It’s illustrated by Jonathan Nelson, a young Navajo artist.

Gallacher: What are you working on now?

Bo Flood: It’s “I Will Dance,” a book about a young girl who barely lived as a premature baby and is unable to walk. But from the time she was 3, she wanted to dance. People kept telling her to imagine herself dancing and she would say, “No. I don’t want to imagine. I want to dance.”

This story is based on a little girl that I interviewed. It reaches some place deep inside me that I haven’t completely figured out. But I do know this: It reminds me of my little sister. She and I were always dancing together. We loved dancing. When she died, I asked my mother, “Mom, can Peggy dance up in heaven?”

My mom said, “I’m sure she’s dancing up in heaven.” So, somehow, this story is connected. Somehow, it’s all connected.

New bill would let health centers actually get paid for telehealth

A new bill in the Colorado legislature could make telemedicine more accessible, and one local community health center is ready for it.

Right now, federally qualified health centers, also known as community health centers, don’t get paid for providing remote consultations to Medicaid patients.

 “We get an annual grant from the federal government to support care for uninsured people, and the other part of that is that we get reimbursement from Medicaid that covers what we spend on those visits,” said Dr. Chris Tonozzi of Mountain Family Health Center in Glenwood Springs.

“What’s been going on is that Colorado Medicaid hasn’t been willing to reimburse in their usual way for (telemedicine), based on what it costs us,” Tonozzi said.

In Colorado, Medicaid covers the costs of face-to-face visits, but telehealth consultations by community health centers don’t qualify.

That’s where a new bill proposed in the Colorado Legislature comes in.

The act would make a telemedicine service reimbursable at the same rate as an in-person, or so-called face-to-face visit.

“We would get reimbursed in our usual way, which would make (telemedicine) much more easy for us,” Tonozzi said.

Telemedicine consultations are required to have video and audio, so in a sense the services would still be face-to-face, just through a screen.

“Telemedicine visits can lead to cost savings for the Medicaid system by improving access to primary care and helping to avoid unnecessary trips to emergency departments,” according to the proposed bill’s declaration.

One place telemedicine consultations have been useful is in chronic disease management, Tonozzi said. 

For diabetes patients, for example, Tonozzi can schedule a follow-up with a patient and check in on many aspects of their diabetes control.

Particularly if they’re monitoring glucose levels on their own, “I can review those and then make a plan for changes and referrals,” Tonozzi said.

Patients who struggle with hypertension also have benefitted from telehealth.

“There’s a new movement to have patients do more blood pressure measurements at home, because they’re often unusually high when they come into the doctor’s office,” Tonozzi said.

“Those home blood pressures are really good to have, especially if they’re taking good blood pressures at home, being able to review those with patients at telehealth visits can be really useful.”

And during flu season, it would be nice to have the option of remote consultation, so patients aren’t exposed, or don’t expose others, to a virus.

The bill came about after Rep. Perry Will (R-New Castle) visited the Rifle Mountain Family Health Center.

Tonozzi wasn’t involved in that meeting, but said that others brought up the issue of telehealth billing.

Sen. Bob Rankin (R-Carbondale) joined the bill as a senate sponsor, and the bill also attracted two sponsors from the Democratic caucus: Sen. Kerry Donovan (D-Vail) and Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D-Thornton).

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Committee on Public Health Care & Human Services Feb. 5.

Tonozzi noted that the telemedicine bill in Colorado isn’t a big change to healthcare, but it would be helpful to community health centers.

“It’s a little bit of a niche bill for us, but we’re super happy. We feel like telemedicine, telehealth, is the wave of the future, and can provide a lot of convenience for patients in particular, and help us get more care out to people in a more convenient way,” he said.

One of the larger problems for Mountain Family and other health providers is that Garfield County has one of the highest rates of uninsured in the state.

A total of 40 percent of Mountain Family’s patients are uninsured, while another 30 percent use Medicaid. The remaining are on a variety of insurance options, Tonozzi said.

Across the state, community health centers provide care for 40 percent of uninsured persons.

“We’ve been struggling to figure that out, and help more people get insured,” Tonozzi said.


School board passes resolution opposing Glenwood quarry expansion, citing bus route safety concerns

School bus route safety alone is reason enough for the Roaring Fork School District to oppose the planned expansion of the Transfer Trail limestone quarry north of Glenwood Springs, district officials said in approving a resolution to that effect.

However, district staff informed the school board last week they are not versed enough on air quality impacts and effects on children to cite that as a reason to oppose the quarry expansion.

The school board, at its Jan. 22 meeting in Glenwood Springs, unanimously approved a resolution expressing its opposition to the proposed major expansion of the existing mine operation on Transfer Trail by RMR Industrials.

In doing so, the district joins other local governments in opposing the quarry plan at the request of the anti-quarry expansion group, Glenwood Springs Citizens Alliance.

Alliance members presented arguments to the school board earlier this month, keying on school bus safety from the major increase in trucks hauling rock from the quarry that would occur, along with air quality concerns.

District staff did recommend that the board give equal time to RMR to present its proposal and any traffic mitigation plans that are included in the formal application to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

“We had reached out to RMR twice prior to the board meeting, but did not hear back,” according to Kelsy Been, public information officer for the school district. “We did, however, consider information taken directly from RMR’s proposal.”

According to an analysis by district Transportation Director Jared Rains provided to the school board, “the traffic impact of this proposed mine expansion will be significant.”

The proposed 80-fold increase from the current level of quarry trucking would run alongside two special education buses, and would intersect with dozens of other routine bus routes along Traver Trail and U.S. Highway 6, Rains said.

The significant size difference between school buses and semi-trailer haul trucks along those routes is a major concern, he said.

“The fact that the major intersections of the truck and bus routes are all controlled by single stop signs (not 4-way stops), concerns me greatly,” Rains wrote in his analysis. “I do not allow my buses to make the unprotected left turns that these trucks will need to do, precisely because of the risk of entering the highway in such a manner.

“This raises serious safety concerns for the students traveling in school buses alongside the proposed increased truck traffic,” he wrote. 

Regarding air quality and its relation to students’ health, Roaring Fork Schools Superintendent Rob Stein wrote, “Our staff (does) not feel qualified to conduct an analysis of air quality or health impacts until a more updated study is performed.

“If we learn more at a later date and feel strongly that the impacts will have a negative effect on student and staff health/safety, we would like to bring that back to the board for information and possible amendment to the resolution.”

RMR’s proposal calls for improvements to be made to Transfer Trail in the vicinity of the quarry, but does not address potential school bus impacts along the lower roadways.

Officials from RMR did not return a request Tuesday for comment regarding the district’s bus route safety concerns.

The RMR proposal is currently being reviewed by the BLM Colorado River Valley Field Office, including a preliminary environmental assessment of hydrologic well drilling activities before the full quarry expansion proposal is considered.

The plan calls for crushed rock to be hauled from the quarry, down Transfer and Traver Trail roads to Highway 6 and via Devereux Road to a railroad load-out facility.

The quarry currently operates under Garfield County and BLM permits at a production level of 100,000 tons of rock. The expansion plan by RMR calls for production to increase to 5 million tons of rock per year for 20 years, and an increase from about 20 truck trips per day to between 320 and 450 haul trips.


Carbondale’s Red Rock Diner is closed

Carbondale’s classic diner has closed after 25 years of operation.

The Red Rock Diner near the intersection of Highway 82 and Highway 133 had a closed sign out front on Saturday evening, and on Sunday the restaurant’s Facebook page posted a notice about the closure.

Co-owner Gina Shaw said she and fellow owner Marty Voller hope to sell the business but haven’t put it on the market yet.

Shaw said the business was unsustainable for a combination of reasons, including staffing and declining breakfast customers.

“In the current economy, it was really hard to find consistent help,” Shaw said.

The diner had many fabulous employees, Shaw said, but retaining talent was a struggle.

New minimum wage laws for restaurants didn’t help the small diner either, Shaw said.

Business started to diminish during the three-month Grand Avenue bridge closure in 2017, Shaw said.

“Ever since the bridge closure we lost our breakfast crowd, which was kind of our bread and butter,” Shaw said.

 “I think people were just so hell-bent on getting where they needed to go that they didn’t stop for breakfast because they didn’t have time, and after a long day of commuting they didn’t stop for dinner either,” Shaw said.

While the new bridge opened in November 2017, the Red Rock Diner’s breakfast traffic didn’t really return.

Voller and Shaw bought Red Rock Diner in 2015, taking over the iconic store just north of the town limits from Bob Olenik, who started the restaurant in 1994. The new owners kept much of the décor, retro atmosphere and staple diner fare.

Voller added a number of dishes and “reimagined what the ’50s and ’60s diner tastes like,” according to the restaurant’s website. The restaurant also served beer, wine and cocktails.

The news about Red Rock Diner comes nearly a month after New Castle’s diner announced it would be closing until a new owner is found.


Crime Briefs: inhalants and handgun leads to arrest; man calls 911 complaining about snow blowers

On Jan. 22 at approximately 6:36 p.m., a deputy with the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office responded to a motorist assist call on County Road 154 near Glenwood Springs.

According to the arrest affidavit, while en route to the scene, dispatch further advised that the vehicle’s 36-year-old male occupant was “under the influence of inhalants and possibly armed with a handgun.”

Upon arrival, the deputy noticed the Ford sedan’s brake lights going on and off and the male party sitting in the driver’s seat.

Due to it being a high-risk stop, law enforcement shut down a portion of County Road 154 to keep traffic out of the area.

Deputies repeatedly asked the man to show his hands, but were instead met with “a loud hissing noise coming from inside of the vehicle.”

According to the affidavit, one of the deputies saw the man’s head “bob up and down” and observed what looked like an aerosol can in the subject’s right hand.

After repeatedly ignoring commands, two teams comprised of various law enforcement personnel approached the vehicle and removed the man who was “passed out behind the wheel.”

According to the affidavit an investigator “observed a handgun sitting in the center console area.”

Law enforcement personnel also observed “nine aerosol air dusters” inside of the vehicle, seven of which were empty according to the affidavit.

EMS later advised that the 36-year-old man was clear for transportation to an area hospital. According to the affidavit, while en route to the hospital, the man asked several times “what happened?”

After a four-hour observation period, due to the amount of aerosol the man consumed, the 36-year-old was transported to the Garfield County Jail and charged with the following: driving while under the influence of drugs, abusing toxic vapors, possession while under the influence and obstructing government operations.

Shortly after 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 22, dispatch advised of a suspicious incident where a male called 911 complaining about snow blowers.

According to the arrest affidavit, the man also told dispatch that he was headed to Grand Junction and “going to get a bat and kill people.”

Dispatch advised that the phone’s location was moving westbound along Interstate 70 near Rifle.

According to the affidavit, the man had previously called the Vail Public Safety Communications Center “making racial statements and threats.”

At approximately 6:31 p.m. dispatch advised that the phone was plotting near Parachute.

A Garfield County Sheriff deputy in the area attempted to contact a silver Nissan van and its 33-year-old male driver, who he believed was making the calls.

After failing to pull over, tire deflation devices were deployed near De Beque, which ultimately brought the van to a stop.

After attempting to flee by running in both of Interstate 70’s east and westbound lanes, officers brought the male subject to the ground.

According to the arrest affidavit, the vehicle that the male was driving “had several open alcohol containers” inside.

The man was later transported to the Garfield County Jail and charged with vehicular eluding, failure to drive in a single lane, having an open alcohol container in a motor vehicle and obstructing a peace officer.


Guest column: Trump’s rewriting of NEPA rulebook would mean less power for the public

On Jan. 1, 1970, Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) into law. NEPA grew out of the turbulent 1960s when the dramatic impacts of industrialization, urbanization, and pollution were thrust into the national spotlight. This was the era when Rachel Carson documented the effects of indiscriminate pesticide use in “Silent Spring;” an oil well blowout covered 30 miles of beach with tar near Santa Barbara; and the Cuyahoga River caught on fire because it was so polluted.  

NEPA grew out of a broadly perceived need to better protect our environment and communities, and to give all people a say in government decision-making. The law passed through Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support. Today it represents “our basic national charter for protection of the environment.” In essence, NEPA requires the government to look before leaping and to give the American people a voice. The law also requires government to consider and address inequities that lead to marginalized communities being disproportionately affected by pollution, climate change and other environmental impacts.

For 50 years the public and the environment have benefited from this visionary law. One local example is worthy of mention. In the 2000s, BLM issued dozens of oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide without NEPA compliance. The leases posed a threat to the Divide’s historic uses and unique natural values, but BLM failed to consider those impacts before selling them. The leases became subject of extraordinary controversy. For years, BLM ignored the problem. Public outrage grew and legal challenges mounted. Ultimately, BLM decided that a transparent NEPA process was the only way to resolve the problem. More than a decade after issuing the leases, BLM decided to take a hard look at its decision to sell them. Thorough environmental analysis and public engagement led to the conclusion that 25 of the leases should be cancelled. Local communities celebrated the outcome with unanimity. Failure to comply with NEPA caused the problem, complying with the law resulted in a roundly supported solution.

But NEPA has opponents, often people and corporations that stand to benefit from less public engagement, and those who are unconcerned with environmental impacts. Since inauguration, the Trump administration has been doing the bidding of NEPA opponents. The agenda is called streamlining. Basically, streamlining is about reducing public participation and environmental analysis — silencing us and ignoring potential impacts to expedite development. 

On Jan. 10, the Trump administration began its most dramatic rollback yet. The administration is proposing to rewrite the NEPA rulebook. NEPA itself only outlines broad national policy. To guide implementation of that policy, the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) was created to issue guidelines to federal agencies on how to implement NEPA’s goals. CEQ rules are where the rubber hits the road. They outline how agencies analyze the impacts of their actions and how they engage the public. These are the rules the Trump administration wants to gut. 

Basically, the proposal would mean fewer projects require NEPA review. Reviews that are required would be less thorough and involve fewer opportunities for public comment. Some of the worst changes include:

– The proposal redefines the term “major Federal action” so fewer projects would be eligible for environmental review and public input. 

– The proposal limits types of “effects” required to be analyzed. This would remove consideration of effects that are “remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy causal chain.” Climate change is a clear target here. 

– The revision would eliminate the longstanding requirement to evaluate “cumulative effects.” Abandoning disclosure and analysis of the additive impacts of multiple projects paves the way for ‘death by a thousand cuts’ for communities and the environment.

– The proposal also contemplates limiting the range of alternatives that may be considered by agencies. Project alternatives are often considered the heart of NEPA. Considering a range of alternatives often results in the identification mitigation measures, saves taxpayer money, and makes a project more likely to be approved. But alternatives are on the chopping block. 

– The proposal includes hard deadlines for project approval, including two-year time limits for environmental impact statements and one-year limits for the environmental assessments regardless of project complexity or controversy. These arbitrary deadlines would force agencies to shortcut public participation and necessary analysis.

– Finally, the proposal would allow private corporations to prepare their own environmental impact statements “under the supervision of an agency,” thus eroding the objectivity of analysis.

These rollbacks are unnecessary. CEQ has acknowledged that regulations already provide ample flexibility to meet the goal of high-quality, efficient, and timely reviews. For five decades NEPA has allowed the public to effectively participate in agency decision-making. The law has resulted in better decisions for local communities and the environment.  The strength and flexibility of NEPA explain why it is the United States’ most widely imitated law, with over 160 other countries adopting laws modeled after NEPA. Nonetheless, the Trump administration intends to gut it for the benefit of a privileged few.

The comment period for this rollback runs through March 10. There will be a public hearing in Denver on Feb. 11. Details on the rulemaking are available on the CEQ website here. Wilderness Workshop will be working to push back on the proposal with written comments and urging our members to do the same.

Peter Hart is the staff attorney for the Wilderness Workshop.

Aerial survey shows area’s Douglas-fir trees are on the menu for beetles

Observers who are noticing dying conifer trees around the Roaring Fork River watershed can blame the Douglas-fir beetle.

The valley has avoided many of the insect infestations that have decimated parts of Colorado over the last two decades, but two pests targeting fir and Douglas-fir trees have made their mark, according to an annual aerial survey performed by the Colorado State Forest Service and U.S. Forest Service. Results were released Monday.

The agencies’ report featured an interactive map that shows what pests are affecting which areas of the state. The Douglas-fir beetle and the western balsam beetle, represented with red and orange dots, respectively, cover the Roaring Fork Valley like chicken pox.

Adam McCurdy, forest programs director for Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, said just about anywhere in the Roaring Valley where conifer trees are dying, it’s a sign of the Douglas-fir beetle outbreak. Douglas-fir needles fade, then turn a reddish-orange after an attack.

“That’s kind of been a slow-brewing thing,” he said. “Crested Butte had an outbreak that was pretty slow moving, which is what we’re seeing here.”

Dying stands of Douglas-fir are visible in the Fryingpan Valley, on the north side of Snowmass Canyon near Triangle Peak, on the front side of Aspen Mountain and along Highway 82 up Independence Pass, McCurdy said.

A U.S. Forest Service map showing beetle activity areas shows a major infestation south of Fryingpan Road about halfway between Basalt and Ruedi Reservoir. Lesser infestations are in the Upper Fryingpan Valley, north and northeast of Meredith.

The report by the state and federal forest services said Douglas-fir beetle activity was detected on 7,400 acres in Colorado, including 6,000 new acres. The White River National Forest, which includes the Aspen area, was among those where mortality is most evident, the report said.

The western balsam beetle affects subalpine fir trees. There are numerous pockets of infestation on upper Smuggler Mountain and in the Williams Mountains, according to the Forest Service map.

Statewide, the spruce beetle “remains the most damaging forest pest in the state for the eighth consecutive year,” the state and federal forest service agencies reported.

“Since 2000, spruce beetle outbreaks caused tree mortality on roughly 1.87 million acres in Colorado, and about 41 percent of the spruce-fir forests in the state have now been affected,” the report said. “Blow-down events in Engelmann spruce stands, combined with long-term drought stress, warmer temperatures and extensive amounts of older, densely growing trees contributed to this ongoing epidemic.”

The 2019 survey found evidence of spruce beetle activity on 89,000 acres in Colorado, including 25,000 acres of new activity. So far, spruce trees in the Roaring Fork Valley have avoided infestation.

Forest Service officials expressed concerns last year that the Roaring Fork Valley could experience an outbreak of spruce beetles after so many trees were leveled by avalanches in the epic avalanche cycle in March. The carnage was evident in multiple valleys.

McCurdy said it is too soon to say whether the downed spruce will attract beetles. He noted spruce beetles are always present and looking for susceptible trees.

“Those beetles are native, and you find them in our forests at any given time,” he said.

The U.S. Forest Service noted that the avalanche activity throughout Colorado’s mountain last winter created conditions that must be monitored.

“Avalanches were abundant in 2019 and may warrant additional monitoring for bark beetle activity depending on the species and size of trees taken down and in adjacent stands,” the report said.

McCurdy and the report made the point that a second straight winter of average to above average snowfall will benefit the trees by helping them shore up their defenses. However, McCurdy noted that Colorado forests have dealt with several recent droughts, the latest in 2018. In addition, a warming planet poses long-term consequences.

“It’s not like one or two good years can balance out all the bad ones,” he said.

ACES will release its annual report on forest health in the Aspen area later this winter.


Forest Service opens public review of Sunlight’s proposed East Ridge expansion

The U.S. Forest Service is set to begin public review for Sunlight Mountain Resort’s plans to build a new chairlift and expand expert terrain on the ski area’s East Ridge.

It will also likely seek categorical exclusion from a full environmental review, due to the small amount of forest land that would be disturbed by the expansion, according to a Forest Service news release issued on Monday.

The White River National Forest’s Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has scheduled a public meeting from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 4 at the Glenwood Springs Library to answer questions, as the agency begins taking public scoping comments on the proposal.

Sunlight announced last year that it is launching a $4 million expansion project on the far eastern side of Compass Peak, including about 100 acres of new expert skiing terrain and a new chair lift serving the East Ridge area.

Already this season, Sunlight expanded the existing Aligator Alleys, Deception, Defiance, Perry’s Plunge and other double-black diamond runs. The expansion is proposed to continue later this year and next with new runs to the east of the current ski area boundary, along with the new lift and a pit toilet.

Sunlight expansion public meeting

The Aspen-Sopris Ranger District has scheduled a public meeting to discuss Sunlight Mountain Resort’s expansion plans, from 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 4 at the Glenwood Springs Library.

Forest Service and Sunlight Mountain Staff will be on hand to answer questions.

Sunlight’s East Ridge offers both intermediate and advanced ski terrain that sits both on private land near Four Mile Creek and on public land administered by the White River National Forest.

According to the Forest Service, approximately 2,000 feet of the new lift would be on forest land. The top terminal is proposed to be located between the existing Rebel and Beaujolais ski runs.


In addition, about three-quarters of an acre is to be cleared for catwalks to provide access to the Rebel and Grizzly trails from the top of the new lift.

The terminal would include an operator building, an engine drive, motor room and unloading area, requiring about a quarter of an acre to be cleared.

A small pit-type outhouse would also be constructed adjacent to the top terminal for public and operator use.

“The purpose of this project is to improve guest access to intermediate and advanced ski terrain,” according to the proposed expansion plan. “There is a demonstrated need to provide direct access by eliminating the use of the Tercero, Segundo and Primo chairlifts. The new lift would also provide access to underutilized trails, increase access to repeat users and improve visitor experience.”

Upon completion of the project, all disturbed areas surrounding the new structures would be revegetated, according to the plan. Construction staging and assembly areas are to occur primarily on private lands. 

“Due to the minimal amount of new disturbance, the Forest Service is considering categorically excluding this project from analysis in an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement,” according to the release.

As a result, the public scoping period is the opportunity for those interested in or affected by the proposal to identify any significant issues before that decision is formally made.

Written comments may be submitted by mail, fax, email or in person by Feb. 23.

Written comments should be submitted to: Scott Fitzwilliams, c/o Devon Cotsamire, Mountain Sports Administrator, Aspen-Sopris Ranger District, 620 Main Street, Carbondale, CO 81623, or hand-delivered between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., Monday-Friday. Faxed comments can be sent to 970-963-1012.

Comments may also be submitted electronically here.

Visit the project home page for additional information.


Coal Ridge to host benefit for Paonia coach and family

Coal Ridge High School will host a benefit chili and soup dinner for the Rienks family at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday before the Titans home basketball games against Grand Valley.

Scott Rienks, the head coach of Paonia High School girls basketball, was recently diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

The event is $5 per person, and donations will be accepted as well.

According to the Coal Ridge High School’s Facebook page the Rienks family have accumulated significant medical bills and need assistance. 

All proceeds will go to support the family.