A setback for dark sky in Colorado’s Wet Mountain Valley — The Mountain Town News

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent, and courtesy of Dark Skies Inc of the Wet Mountain Valley.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Dark week for star-gazers as Colorado county rejects limits on lights

Dark sky proponents in Colorado’s Custer County had hoped to become the first international dark-sky reserve in North America certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

They were buoyed in their effort by the great success of dark-sky designations for Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, the two adjoining towns in the Wet Mountain Valley.

It didn’t happen, though. Idaho earned that distinction late last year for a broad swath of the state that includes the headwaters of the Salmon River as well as the land around Ketchum and Sun Valley.

But even being No. 2 may now be out of the question. Last week the local planning commission rejected a resolution to change the definition of light pollution.

Partly at issue has been the intensity of new energy efficient LED lights. With less energy, they produce more light, and more disruptive white light. Dark sky proponents in Custer County wanted to throttle down the color temperature to 3,000 Kelvin, a warmer and less intense light. A regular incandescent or Halogen light has a “color” of about 2,700 Kelvin. More industrial settings, such as the lights you often see on the sides of warehouses, use 5,000 Kelvin lights or even stronger.

John Barentine, director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association, says removing all reference to light pollution in the county ordinances, as county commissioners want, “would be a significant step backward.”

Barentine tells Mountain Town News that he’s dubious the Wet Mountain Valley will achieve designation as a dark-sky preserve. “It would be a very uphill effort, if not outright impossible,” he said by e-mail.

For Idaho to achieve the designation, it took amended regulations in three counties as well as towns.

The Wet Mountain Tribune reported a packed courtroom for the meeting. In persuading the planning commissioners, opponents warned of government over-reach. “We don’t need the strong arm of government,” said one individual, who instead advocated voluntary compliance. Opponents of the limitations on light-pollution also fretted about fines imposed and possible jail time meted out to offenders.

Jim Bradburn, president of the Dark Skies, Inc. of the Wet Mountain Valley, said he and other proponents will continue to make their case. The valley’s ranchers opposed the proposed restriction on high-intensity lights. He says that as American’s shift their diets away from beef, the valley will need economic development strategies. The dark sky is an asset that can be used to draw overnight visitors from Denver, three hours away, and from Colorado Springs, about 90 miles away.

“They all love dark skies, but when you ask them how are they going to preserve it, nobody seems to have an answer,” says Bradburn of the rural property owners. “The voluntary thing is great, but we have been doing voluntary now for 10 years, and the lights keep showing up. … It’s not working,” he tells Mountain Town News.

Located along the Sangre de Cristo Range in south-central Colorado, Custer County has often had fractious political fights. In November, two of the three county commissioners were recalled.

Assistance available to ag producers through the Conservation Stewardship Program

From The Pagosa Sun (Petra Popiel):

Agricultural producers wanting to enhance current conservation efforts are encouraged to apply for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Through CSP, the USDA’s Natutral Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps private landowners build their business while implementing conservation practices that help ensure the sustainability of their entire operation.

NRCS plans to enroll up to 10 million acres in CSP in 2018. While applications for CSP are accepted year-round, applications must be received by March 2 to be considered for this funding period. Through CSP, agricultural producers and forest landowners earn payments for actively managing, maintaining, and expanding conservation activities like cover crops, ecologically based pest management, buffer strips, and pollinator and beneficial insect habitat — all while maintaining active agriculture production on their land.

CSP also encourages the adoption of cutting-edge technologies conservation options and the and new management techniques such as precision agriculture applications, on-site carbon storage and planting for high carbon sequestration rate, and new soil amendments to improve water quality.

Pagosa Springs councillors approve seventh whitewater feature on the San Juan River

San Juan River from Wolf Creek Pass

From The Pagosa Sun (Marshall Dunham):

On Jan. 18, the Pagosa Springs Town Council unanimously voted to engage Wolf Creek Ski Area and Riverbend Engineering to complete a seventh whitewater feature on the San Juan River.

“Over the past several years, Wolf Creek Ski Area has donated heavy equipment and operators to build six of the seven whitewater features that were planned out many years ago through public input,” explained Town Manager Andrea Phillips to the council. “At this time, they are able and ready to complete the last feature, which is between the 1st Street bridge and Cotton Hole.”

Phillips stated that the feature would provide challenging condi- tions to kayakers and tubers.

She added that the project would involve concrete as well as stone work.

“In the past, the ski area has donated a lot of the equipment and the operators. The town’s covered the fuel costs as well as a pumper truck,” Phillips said. “This go around, the ski area is not able to provide as much of a donation as they have in the past. They’re still providing operators and assisting us with maintenance on our existing items and providing some of the equipment. However, they are asking for the town to step
up a bit more than we have on this other feature.”

Phillips went on to explain that $10,000 for construction manage- ment would be allotted, and that it would go to Riverbend Engineering.

Tuesday: 2018 Governor’s Forum of Colorado Agriculture ​”Colorado’s Agricultural Impact: Economic, Environmental and Social”

Click here for all the inside skinny.

Photo credit: AgriExpo.com.