Gunnison Country and You

Bird Feathers…Paying for our governments mistakes with the Gunnison sage grouse

The Gunnison Sage Grouse newest Federal listing handed down by a Federal Judge recently is ridiculous considering all this county has done to insure the birds’ survival. The Strategic Committee, Stockgrowers , County Government and Federal agencies have done a tremendous amount to protect that bird and have increased the numbers 10-fold in the last 20 some years. Of late, the efforts here have been punished for other regional populations that were dwindling while ours was flourishing and now we are being punished for not doing enough to control development, as in zero development.

I hate to tell them there was a flock of sage “chickens” in every yard when I was growing up and as they repopulate now it is the ranch yards they are moving to. They feel safest there from natural predators and can get out of the wind around haystacks and buildings.

I lamented the decline of the sage grouse long before they were even mentioned as being in peril…when Blue Mesa took acres and acres of their range, starving thousands of them and when people were taking full bag limits in the late ’80’s even though the populations were decreasing, and lastly people hunting them with dogs, a hugely unfair advantage over a bird you can almost catch on foot, but this recent ruling is a swing too far the other way in my view and will hamper solar development here to name but one unintended consequence of the ruling.

The only thing holding the water in the Gunnison Basin and protecting it from front range waste are the ranches and this recent decision is shortsightedly going to put in peril the only thing keeping the wildlife protected; irrigated land and dedicated landowners that helped the bird in the first place. Many ranching permittee’s push cattle into the higher terrain each year in a progressive move from the domestic pastures to the high country. Will they be able under this new listing to move cattle across the sage brush lands or graze there in the fall? As we saw this year, rainfall is precarious in the west, so it forced ranchers to shorten their public land grazing, which in turn will cause them to need additional feed to get through the winter months. If we don’t get snow this year, not only will the grouse suffer, but the ones who ultimately protect them.

The real kicker for me is the Bureau of Reclamation who flooded thousands of acres of habitat with Blue Mesa reservoir and disturbed downstream habitat with other projects associated with that, never came through on their contract of a like habitat replacement. Of course, at that time sage grouse was far from their minds because there were thousands upon thousands of them. The BoR were to exchange fish habitat to replace the world class fishing that was once here. In hindsight Gunnison County should have demanded habitat replacement when the bird first showed signs of decline, but alas, that is water under the bridge so to speak. The bird has seen increased habitat from local landowners who are at this time being kicked in the gut for their efforts.

That leads me to say, that Gunnison County has bent over backwards to appease Fish and Wildlife and here we are. Not one of the national environmental groups that lobbied for this recent conclusion ever, ever came to the table to help solve the various issues that surrounded the push to get the bird back on its’ feet.

So, they got their way through massive funding and we have people holding properties in the sage that may be worthless now. Most of those owners were willing to do what they could to appease the situation for the recovery of the bird, so now they are going to be told they can’t use their property perhaps? The entire south end of the county was sage grouse habitat and mind you all the way north to CB South. Now what? If we had had one tenth of the dollars spent to buy this listing, the bird would have more land than 10,000 birds could utilized.

I grew up in the middle of Gunnison County and care about all the wildlife and our way of life too. I don’t like all the growth either, but I do think landowners have accepted the fact that they live with wildlife and protecting the grouse is important to many. I challenge the Wild Earth Guardians to come here and help build up drainage’s for the birds and get up before dawn on -20 degree mornings to count the birds that come to the leks. To my knowledge not one of them have participated to help the bird. The only hands on they have had for this effort is a wallet and a pen to fight for the listing.

Hometown Bus Thoughts

2015-07-15 00.37.24The recent RTA (Transportation) measure (5A) on the ballot in Gunnison County was a bone of contention for some and for others a no brainer, I am of the latter camp and I will tell you why. My hubby and I went to the X Games in Aspen a couple of years ago to watch our favorite Olympian, Aaron Blunck. As we approached Aspen, having no clue where to go, we were directed via large highway signs where to park for the X Games. We parked and were directed where to go to catch the bus into Aspen, at which point our bags were checked for explosives and guns and on the bus we went. After a short ride we were dropped at the bottom of the half pipe with a 50 yard walk to watch Aaron. No mess, no fuss, no traffic and straight forward as hell and all in about 20 minutes.

This was no event created bus system, it is that way day in and day out from Snowmass to Aspen and back. In my mind what played out was what I had campaigned for (among other things) in 2012 when I ran for County Commissioner in Gunnison County; a county-wide bus system. Ski areas are in the mountains and there is little room for building, much less parking so it only makes sense to enlarge public transportation and in fact visitors choose one vacation area over another often because of the availability of public transportation.

What I envisioned in 2012, when I  talked to the transportation director about what it would take to make this happen, was a bus system that would allow shoppers to come to Gunnison from Crested Butte and visa-versa. A system that the general public and college students could use to get across town to a restaurant and home without a DUI or worse hurting others because of said DUI condition. I envisioned transportation for older folks who depend on personal friends to get them around town. Us boomers are aging, but haven’t shut down our activities, so a transportation system benefits us in so many ways and older folks are choosing Gunnison County as a retirement destination.

I have driven Hwy. 135 thousands of times and it seems there are less cars now than in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, and the few buses we have now are directly responsible for the drop in numbers of cars on the road. For every car we take off the road we drop the risk of an accident. I used to walk every morning from WSC across town for a baby sitting job at Wildwood and how I could have used a bus system then to get back to my 8:00 a.m. class on time. The number of times I drove from Almont to Gunnison after a night out dancing was ludicrous, but now young folks can simply catch the bus and avoid the pitfalls of DUI.

Of the people I talked to prior to the ballot issue passing many were on the fence about it. Some rightly asked why not charge something to offset costs and I would explain that there are some grant monies that are only available for free transportation. As well, the director told me that when they charged a very nominal fee their ridership fell off by at least 40%. We can argue that with “so what”, but I remind folks, every vehicle on our highways are wear and tear on them and we pay for that via state taxes. If the RTA charged they would have to hire someone to create the tickets, administer the tickets and collect the money. The drivers cannot be occupied with that and it slows them down when loading. So what is the cost of free? Under John Norton  CBMR came up with “Ski Free”  during an otherwise dead part of the year between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Like he said then and I say now, there isn’t anything like free. Ski Free BTW was a huge success for businesses in Gunnison as well as CB!

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s when CBMR was catering more to families than the effluent, lots of folks stayed in Gunnison and skied the Butte. I am seeing some innovation recently that can bring that back by selling Gunnison as a two resort town which I have advocated for a while now, by busing some folks to Monarch as well as the Butte. The RTA cannot do the Monarch run as it is designated to be a county operation at this point, but small businesses are starting to think out of the box on that and trying to obtain their own bus system to accommodate the two resort model. I am sure Monarch would be happy to help them along in that endeavor if approached as they have long thought out of the box on things.

Western State’s student population will use the heck out of that bus system and it will be a draw for getting students to come here to school. Many of them come from public transportation areas and if their parents do not have to buy them a car and insure it on top of paying for college tuition it ought to help our recruitment immensely.

Some are still not happy with the passing of 5A because of taxes in general and I don’t blame them…we all pay taxes. However, I do strongly believe this ballot measure will pay them back in the not too distant future. Some I have talked to say to me that “it will only benefit Crested Butte.” First off those saying that were not in business when the ski area catered to families or when WSC was full of students. I hate to say it, but if the fear of Gunnison being left in the dust is something a person is concerned with, then perhaps we need to pick up the game so we can compete. Be proactive. Gunnison has a lot to offer. I also want to remind folks that whether or not county taxes are collected in Crested Butte or Gunnison, they benefit everyone.

If The Inn at Tomichi Village does get their shuttle to Monarch off the ground I would be the first in line to buy an advertising place card on that shuttle if I had a business. I believe a year-round public bus system is the one thing that can bring Gunnison and Crested Butte businesses big bang for their bucks. I believe.


Our Public Lands

Fall 2014 015I grew up in Gunnison County Colorado where nearly every person is in some way tied to the public lands for a livelihood. I have heard off the cuff remarks from at least one errant soul saying that the feds should not hold our public lands and should sell them off.  I asked, “To whom would you want to see them sold?”  The man quickly said that maybe that was a way for him to buy some real land. I told him I thought that was purely doubtful, and that public lands will sell to the highest bidder, and with the monetary capacity of the folks at the top of the upside down economy this country is experiencing, he would never set foot on any of it.

There are large parcels of private lands near Gunnison and they are being gobbled up easily by big, big money. One piece I know of is 22,000 acres; it is fenced and locked. Another larger ranch that does allow a historically traveled public road through it now will not let anyone park on the road to access the public lands adjacent to it. Effectively they are cutting us off. There is another large property owner that pretty much has locked up all of Black Mesa that isn’t within the National Park. Do we really think that they will do any different to public lands they acquire?

Alaska Senator. Lisa Murkowski who sits on the Energy and National Resources committee is pushing right now, and in fact has a budget amendment for federal lands to be transferred, traded or sold to individual states. Here is a supporting article:  To some degree, and in the real world it is almost a conflict of interest for her to have any role in this because she has the most to gain from selling the Alaska wildernesses to oil companies or private investors. If you don’t think she has pocket lining in mind you best read a little more about politics. She is on a mission for the corporations who likely as not are Chinese or Russian. The oil companies do pay some royalties to all of us, but also benefit from the biggest loopholes. Mining companies, thanks to Harry Reid pay something like 150.00 to lease and in some cases own claims on federal land, giving us nothing in royalties.

I think that ordinary people have to think long and hard on this one, and quick, as legislation is projected to begin this coming fall of 2015. People need to ask themselves why it is that legislators are pushing for this.  Especially in Alaska where a middle school kid could manage the budget due to never having a shortage of income from oil investment there.

My beef with the whole thing is once it is gone, it is gone, gone and we will never get it back, ever. This land they are desirous of, will be sold to people who will lock it up and we have had enough of that in the west already.  Where I am from in Colorado public access has been cut off to many public lands because the landowners simply close traditional access roads.  Imagine if they actually owned that same land, where would we be? Recreation and the small businesses that feed on the proximity to public land and the entire local economy would be gone?  Rafting companies, ranching, bicycling, equestrian sports, 4-wheeling, etc. would all be gone. All the businesses that support those sports would also be gone, like gas stations, grocery stores, sporting goods stores, motels and restaurants.

This legislation I suppose is leading up to “states rights”, which frankly I do not necessarily disagree with. BUT, until world politics is banned from individual states I will not support “states rights”. Right now our congressmen are bought and paid for by the larger interests of corporations and the parties themselves well outside of Colorado. I don’t want someone in Fla. telling us what to do in Colorado OR how to vote on OUR issues. States rights, if in fact we decided as a nation to allow that to morph from Federal control is OK I think, but not until our legislature is 100% in the control of our state with no outside influence. I do not see that happening anymore than blocking people from voting here instead of their hometowns.

The single most important issue other than the economies of the west is water quality.  A free-for-all on former public lands is not something anyone in their right mind would want. A large part of the west are headwaters and they need be protected above all else. As it is now, the federal government cannot sell the water, but were individual states to own and control it all at the state level it could be sold and used to maintain budgets at the very least, and then some pocket lining as a fringe benefit. We cannot allow our water to be polluted either and it can happen in a blink. There are thousands of old mines in Colorado, some corporate owned that were simply abandoned when the price of certain ores fell. The chemicals trapped in old dumps and ponds seep into our water and thus into our faucets, crop land or hay meadows. Do we want to go at more of that willy nilly by having private land owners mine their own land?

We better think this one over for a long time as luckily our Senators  Gardner and Bennet both are. They voted against the measure this time around, but as the pressure mounts, come time for a roll call, how will they vote?
Please write your Senators on this. Colorado Senators:

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Strategic Plan



Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is forming a long range strategic plan for the state CPW and have on online form for public comment. I am encouraging all those who use trails, hunt, Mt. Bike, horseback ride, ranch, motor sport, etc. to please go online and fill it out. It doesn’t take long and may well shape the future of trails, hunting and fishing.

“CPW’s recently completed State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP) documented through a public opinion poll that trails based recreational activities are the most popular outdoor recreational activities in Colorado, totaling 250,000,000 activity days per year by Coloradans alone.”

Maybe CPW should do more toward trails as they pertain to not only hunters and fisherman, but also to big game movement, winter feed grounds and grazing permits and not to mention 250,000,000 regular trail users. I am suggesting they couple with the other agencies to make our trails system the best it can be for wildlife and users of all kinds.