OUT: Sunday Column March 22, 2009

Bear sighting on ski slope shows sure signs of spring

Bikes and bears, not boards, will dominate most ski resorts by mid-April.

Powderhorn, which still has good snow cover on most of its runs, closes March 29 with many other areas loading their last chair for 2008-2009 on April 5.

Thursday at Powderhorn, we found only a few skiers and boarders enjoying what might have been the some of the best skiing of the year.

It wasn’t deep powder but instead near-perfect spring conditions that had people exploring on and off trail.

As we were riding up the West End lift, we noticed a couple of ski patrollers looking and pointing toward some trees to the west of the lift.

“There, on the tree way back there, see that big brown thing?’ came the word.

We barely had time to look before the lift whisked us away, but it was apparent something was up and it wasn’t just the temperature.

Then on Saturday, Powderhorn spokeswoman Sara Allen announced the early appearance of ursine visitors has prompted the resort to close the West End Lift for the rest of the season.

“The patrol has been monitoring the activity of at least two bears,” Allen said. “We feel that we are guests in their environment and want to have as little impact as possible.”

Lift tickets have been reduced to $35 because of the closure.

Steamboat also frequently has bears on its runs, a gentle reminder that skiing can come with hazards not always discussed on the trail map.

Lands Bill passes Senate — The widely supported and much-awaited Public Lands Omnibus Bill, part of which will designate wilderness protection for the 65,000-acre Dominguez Canyon Wilderness Study Area south of Grand Junction, made it through the Senate on Thursday and now heads again to the House of Representatives.

The bill stalled there earlier, as legislators voted pretty much along party lines, 282-144, to kill what’s been called the “most important conservation measure in a decade.”

That was only two votes short of the two-thirds needed for passage, and it’s hoped this next try will be successful.

Much of the concern against the bill was because of what Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, said was the lack of meaningful debate.

The public-lands bill had been “irresponsibly moved directly to the House floor for a vote without the benefit of a single public hearing,” Coffman said.

But that argument won’t stand up a second time, said the bill’s supporters.

“This bill is important because so many wild lands are being industrialized and will challenge our ability to manage our fisheries and wildlife in the future,” said Steve Torbit of the National Wildlife Federation. “This bill will protect solitude and the ability for the habitat to be secluded for animals and people alike.”

The omnibus bill, a collection of more than 160 separate bills, will designate more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states and establish three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers and four new national trails.

It also would enlarge the boundaries of more than a dozen existing national park units and establish 10 new national heritage areas.

Supporters say now that the bill has made it through the Senate on a 77-20 vote, another appearance before the House might come this week.

There was a bit of objection from some conservationists who complained the bill would allow a road to be built through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

However, the full bill contains so much protection for rivers and wilderness it’s received widespread support.

“It will be a most welcome action by many Americans who face so much uncertainty in their lives,” said Mike Matz, executive director of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness. “It will be nice for them to know they can visit their most treasured spots and see them just as they are. They will be able to continue to hike, hunt, fish, camp or canoe amid this natural splendor, and that is no small consolation in these difficult times.”

And Paul Spitler, of the Wilderness Society, called the legislation “the most important conservation measure in a decade.”


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