Category Archives: Environment

All National Parks Free to Celebrate Centennial

Visit, appreciate and protect our National Park lands.

NatlParkServiceLogoThe centennial of the National Park Service as been promoted and written about and covered in the broadcast media for months, but the agency’s celebratory freebie long weekend is Thursday, August 25 through Sunday, August 28. On those days, all 412 National Park Service units (Parks, Monuments, Historic Sites) are open to the public for free.

That means no charge for entrance fees, commercial tour fees and transportation entrance fees. Other fees collected by concessionaires (lodging and food service, camping, tours and outfitters such as fishing or climbing guides) are still in effect.

Expect normally busy parks like our nearby Rocky Mountain National Park and communities just outside park boundaries (Estes Park and Grand Lake adjacent to RMNP, for instance) to be crowded. But even as we celebrate, we should be aware of the increased development pressure directly at the edge of popular parks. The 1916 legislation that created the Park Service had a mandate to leave park scenery and wildlife “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” That was then and this now.

Celebrate by Protecting

The Los Angeles Times recently wrote an op-ed exposé, “Can America’s National Parks Defeat Developers at Their Gate?“, pointing out the detrimental proximity of wind farms in the Mojave to protected land and other projects. Grand Canyon Escalade is a frightening plan to construct a huge resort and a tramway that would ferry up to 10,000 people a day to the bottom of the Grand Canyon at the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers, just outside of National Park boundaries. The developer tries to make a case for how wonderful it would be for the land, the river, the wildlife and the Navajo Nation, while its opponents, including the Grand Canyon Trust, document the abuse of those very same interests of that would result. My feeling is that it is preferable to stop a questionable or outright undesirable project than to “un-build.” Let’s give the parks a big birthday present and put the brakes on rampant development in the neighborhoods of “America’s Best Idea.”

Ocean Conservancy Plea to Cruise Lines

A change in course can protect whale sharks.

OceanConservancy-logoWe all get lots of solicitations on behalf of good causes. A recent one from The Ocean Conservancy tugged at my heart and is relevant to cruise aficionados, especially those who travel on Royal Caribbean or Carnival ships along the Mexican coast. Here it is:

The largest fish in the ocean is one of the most majestic, too: the whale shark. These gentle giants are also in danger.

Right now, there’s a very simple way to protect them, and you can help. Off the coast of Mexico, thousands of whale sharks gather to feed and mate every year. Unfortunately, there are two cruise ship companies whose cruises currently travel through this important area where whale sharks congregate in large numbers and swim slowly at the surface of the water.

The beauty of this area is bringing more and more visitors each year, and unfortunately, they are having some negative effects on the whale sharks. There is an easy step to be taken in protecting whale sharks in this region, and we hope you’ll take just a moment to let Carnival and Royal Caribbean Cruises know how important it is to you that they adjust their course by 7 miles to protect these magnificent animals.

Whale sharks can reach over 40 feet in length, and they swim slowly while close to the surface with their mouths open to eat their staple food source, plankton. This makes them particularly vulnerable to ship strikes, which is why it’s so important to adjust cruise ship routes to protect them.

Ships are currently required by Mexican law to go at least 3 miles east of Isla Contoy, but just 4 additional miles would keep the ships from passing through this critical whale shark area and prevent possible negative interactions with these incredible creatures.

Just 7 miles can save whale sharks. Please encourage Carnival and Royal Caribbean to help make a difference for whale sharks.

Devil’s Thumb Ranch Adds Charging Stations

Tesla and other electric cars can “fuel up” at guest ranch.

DTR-logoDevil’s Thumb Ranch Resort & Spa, known for minimizing its carbon footprint and a commitment to other eco-friendly practices to provide sustainably focused vacation, recreation, spa and dining experiences, is adding two Tesla and one universal electric car charging stations, free to overnight guests and also to day visitors if available.

The Tesla chargers, which the car company provided, take approximately four hours to fully charge a car. A fully charged Tesla gets an average of 300 miles before it needs to be plugged in again.  The Universal Charger, which is being provided by the State of Colorado, is expected to be available later in June and will be able to accommodate Chevrolet, Honda and other electric vehicles. It takes approximately four to eight hours to fully charge a car. Both are offered free-of-charge to overnight guests and guests on a space-available  basis to day guests.

Outlet for Tesla charging station.
Outlet for Tesla charging station.

Dave Houston, the ranch’s director of facilities says,  “While still a small segment of car owners, we want to remain as accessible to the traveling public as possible and that includes offering alternate energy resources for them to use.” Applause to this Tabernash, Colorado, ranch resort for being so forward-thinking.

More Protected Land at Rio Grande Headwaters

Large ranch added to Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust achievements.

RioGrandeLandTrust-logoOne of Colorado’s claims to fame is as the birthplace of three major American rivers: the Colorado, the Arkansas and the Rio Grande. The latter generally makes news in the context of US-Mexico border issues, but few people realize that its headwaters are deep in the Colorado Rockies. The Rio Grande Land Trust has been quietly assembling acreage to protect this precious area.


The Del Norte-based Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) has announced the conservation of 1,080 acres of the iconic 4UR Ranch,  bringing RiGHT’s Rio Grande Initiative to the original goal of protecting 25,000 acres of private lands along the Rio Grande and its tributaries.

As with all such never-easy conservation projects, many players participated. So here’s a shout-out to those that RiGHT has thanked: “the generosity of the Leavell and Brown families, who donated a substantial portion of the value. Phase II of the 4UR Ranch conservation project received funding from Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO), the Gates Family Foundation, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), CPW’s San Luis Valley Habitat Partnership Program, and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act. RiGHT especially appreciates the help of the staff of these funding agencies and the Boards who chose to support this effort, all of whom made this exceptional conservation project possible.”

This is not of direct and specific touristic interest, but the conservation of open land, traditional uses and wonderful views or ranchland and mountains is part of the big picture that makes Colorado the beautiful and visit-worthy state that it is.

Finnair Flight on Biofuel

Environment-friendly alternative to aviation fuel.

Finnair-logoFinnair operated its February 23 Helsinki to New York flight powering an Airbus A330 with environmentally sustainable biofuel, coinciding with the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23, to make a statement and to prove that it is a viable fuel. As a leader in the sustainable development of commercial aviation, the airline believes strongly in proactive measures to manage what it calls “environmental performance.”

Kindness to the environment comes at a cost, of course. According to Finnair, “Aviation biofuel is a proven and exhaustively tested technology…but at more than twice the price of conventionally produced jet fuel, it is not yet economically viable for any airline to operate with exclusively. This demonstration flight is made possible thanks in part to cooperation with Airbus and SkyNRG Nordic.”

Most of an airline’s environmental impact arises from aircraft emissions during flight, and switching to a more sustainable fuel source can reduce net CO2 emissions by between 50 and 80 per cent. The biofuel powering the flight to New York, provided by SkyNRG Nordic…is partly manufactured from cooking oil recycled from restaurants, an example of a biofuel alternative to ordinary jet fuel that significantly reduces net greenhouse gas emissions while also being sustainable in its own right. Finnair and its partners insist on the cultivation of biofuel sources that neither compete with food production nor damage biodiversity.”

“The UN Climate Summit is an important gathering to fight climate change, and we wanted to take this opportunity to highlight the climate benefits of more widespread adoption of environmentally sustainable biofuels in aviation,” says Finnair’s Vice President of Sustainable Development Kati Ihamäki. “Finnair is committed to working further with industry partners and government bodies alike to help develop the biofuel supply chain and bring down the cost of sustainable biofuel for everyday use.”

“As air traffic contributes 2 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions, it is very important to have this trial with the use of biofuels,” says Finland’s Minister for International Development Pekka Haavisto. “If the price of oil rises and biofuels become cheaper, there will hopefully be a day when we’ll be able to replace at least some of the fossil fuels with fuels made of renewable and waste material. I’m happy that Finnair is showing leadership in this development.”

To that end, Finnair and its partners are currently investigating the possibility of establishing a biofuel hub at Helsinki Airport. Finnair is active as well in the Nordic Initiative for Sustainable Aviation, a group of airlines, airport operators, manufacturers and government ministries working to accelerate the development of sustainable biofuel for aviation in the Nordic countries. Scandinavian countries and businesses always — or at least usually — seem to take the long view toward doing the right thing for people and the planet.

Wilderness Poster Features Fielder Photos

Fielder introduces commemorative poster at Fort Collins event.

WildernessAct50th-logoIn September 1964,  President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act that initially set aside 9.1 million acres of some of the most spectacular and beautiful places in the country for future generations to use and enjoy. The Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System that today protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas throughout the nation. Various government agencies administer the 758  natural areas protected by this landmark wilderness designation. More than 40 are in Colorado — and aren’t we lucky.

 Wilderness means different things to different people, but hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, photographers, backpackers and nature lovers alike value wilderness areas. They enhance our experience of the out-of-doors in ways that can be difficult to explain. Most of us believe our lives would be poorer without wilderness and the opportunity to experience it first-hand. This is reason enough to feel inspired by this landmark achievement in our nation’s history.

To celebrate the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and John Fielder, Colorado’s best-known nature and outdoor photographer, have joined forces to publish a commemorative poster to honor the state’s wilderness areas with a poster that can be framed. Fielder will be in Fort Collins on April 21 to give a free presentation celebrating the Wilderness Act through his stunning photography of Colorado’s wilderness. The event is hosted by Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources on April 21 at the Griffin Concert Hall Griffin Concert Hall, University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington Street, Fort Collins. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the presentation begins at 7 p.m. The 24 by 36-inch commemorative poster is printed on high quality paper with a protective coating and is suitable for framing. Click here to purchase either the regular poster ($19.95) or the limited edition (100, signed by Fielder and numbered, $75).

Free Wildflower Walks at Big Bear Lake

SoCal resort town shows off endemic (and other) wildflowers

Yellow Lily
Yellow Lily

Visitors who want a break from Disney and Hollywood and the Venice Beach scene can head 100 miles northeast to Big Bear, a resort community that is home to more than 20 endemic wildflowers, which means that these species are not seen anywhere else in the world. This spring, visitors have an opportunity to see these rare flowers up close at the state-run Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve. A botanist and volunteers from the Southern California Mountains Foundation lead these free interpretive wildflower that  depart at 11:30 a.m. each Saturday now through June 29. An option is to follow a half-mile trail, a loop with 11 marked posts that point out key facts about the pebble plains and the rare wildflowers that grace it.

The Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve is east of Big Bear Lake in an open plain covered by small quartz pebbles with low-growing, tufted plants rooted in the crevices. During the Pleistocene era some 10,000 years ago, the area was a glacier lake that formed the clay soil of the pebble plains. The combination of unique soils, thousands of years of the swelling and shrinking of the soils, annual freezing conditions and isolation from other similar areas has the opportunity for the development of various floral species found nowhere else on Earth. Think Darwin’s finches.

The  Baldwin Lake pebble plains area is so unique that it has been compared to coral reefs with more than 20 species in a square mile. Wildflowers such as Cushenberry Buckwheat, Douglas’ Violets, Big Bear Valley Phlox, Ash Grey Paintbrush, Parish’s Daisies and Bear Valley Sandwort can be seen in the pebble plains. The pin-cushion blooms create a landscape with shades of yellow, purple and red. As the season progresses new waves of flowers bloom. Most species are only about one inch high and are nicknamed “belly flowers,” because these plants are best appreciated close-up while lying flat on ones belly. The best time to visit and enjoy the Baldwin Lake Ecological Reserve is during April and early May when wildflowers are blooming and the temperature is relatively cool.

The Reserve can be accessed by driving east of Big Bear Lake on Highway 18. Look for roadside signage that marks the entrance. Good footwear is recommended. Parking and restrooms are available.

Around the World Through the Lens of Yann Arthus-Bertrand

Aerial images from a masterful photographer and environmental crusader

Yann Arthus-Bertrand at work.

My friend Dick Needham sent me a link to “Earth from Above,” a collection of stunning images by Yann Arthus-Bertrand. Do yourself a favor, click on the link and take a look. Arthus-Bertrand, whom I knew little about until I saw these images and read more about him, is one of those rare people whose life has been a succession of experiences, causes and accomplishments, any one of which would be the high point of a person’s life. His accomplishments are matched by the many honors bestowed on him. Among his numerous accomplishments, he…

  • …founded the world’s first press agency and images bank specializing in aerial photography
  • …undertook a photographic inventory of the world’s most beautiful landscapes as part of a UNESCO study on the state of the Earth (it became a book, Earth from Above in French La Terre vue du ciel) that sold over 3 million copies, was translated into 24 languages and inspired a free exhibition that traveled to 110 cities.
  • …founded GoodPlanet, an international environmental organization and set up Action Carbone to offset his own greenhouse gas emissions generated by his helicopter transports and since then has evolved to help people and companies to reduce and offset their climate impact by funding projects on renewable energies, energy efficiency and reforestation.
  • …created a television documentary series called Vu de la ciel, four two-hours documentaries focusing on the world’s main environmental stakes. Shown in France in prime time, we can only hope it comes to the US television.


US Airlines Recycle Just 20% of Their Trash

Unhappy ending for the 880 tons of newspapers, aluminum cans, plastic cups and more annually generated by airlines

When flight attendants roam up and down the aisle with large trash bags to collect passengers’ discards, I’ve always wondered whether someone somewhere sorts it, or whether it just ends up in landfills. Responsible Shopper, a consumer watchdog website, has issued a new report cleverly called “What Goes Up Must Go Down: The Sorry State of Recycling in the Airline Industry.”

I wish it had been otherwise, but their disheartening finding is that of the more than 880 million tons of waste that carriers generate annually, only 20 percent is recycled while, the organization says, fully 75 percent could be. Delta, Virgin America, Virgin Atlantic and Southwest are doing the best job of recycling and United and US Airways, the worst.

Lookout Landfills, Here It Comes!

According to research published by the Natural Resource Defense Council, airlines annually throw away 9,000 tons of plastic, enough aluminum cans to build 58 Boeing 747 jets, and enough newspaper and magazines to cover a football field some 700 feet deep. The council says that energy savings from recycling this waste “would represent a contribution by the airlines to reducing their environmental impact in the face of the considerable climate impact of jet fuel, including 600 million tons of carbon dioxide per year pumped into the atmosphere by commercial jets alone.”

According to the Responsible Shopper report, airlines could recycle nearly 500 million more tons of waste each year (including 250 million tons of in-flight waste) than they do. Furthermore, no airline recycles all the major recyclables: aluminum cans, glass, plastic, and paper, and no airline has a comprehensive program for minimizing or composting food waste or waste from snack packages. It is probably out of embarrassment that no airline provides good public information about their recycling program, or reports out on progress in relation to any stated goals. In addition, the report says, that all airlines provide over-packaged snacks and meals (below), and not one is working with manufacturers to reduce this waste.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A lifetime ago, I worked for Swissair in New York. Even then, the carrier had a contract with pig farmers near Zürich to take all the food waste. But then, the Swiss always seem to do things better than most of the rest of the world. When I think of how little flight attendants have to do on most domestic flights in these times of hardly any food service and minimal snack service, it doesn’t seem to much to ask them to bring two trash bags down the aisle, one for recyclables and one for landfill-bound trash.

 The List

Ranked from best to worst with even the best receiving only a B- grade for current recycling efforts and future plans:

  •  Delta Airlines
  • Virgin America
  • Virgin Atlantic
  • Southwest Airlines
  • Continental Airlines
  • Jet Blue
  • American Airlines
  • British Airways (I’m not sure why this British flag carrier is on the list either)
  • Air Tran
  • United Airlines
  • US Airways


Green America and Responsible Shopper have a call to action too. They are asking passengers respectfully ask flight attendants whether materials on their specific flights are being recycled, and go online to report their findings. The recycling report also contains a list of the airlines and their contact information for anyone who wants to contact them directly.

Responsible Shopper’s lead researcher, Victoria Kreha, has some advice for passenger wanting to be proactive, “For concerned consumers looking to spend their travel dollars wisely, airline waste may be the ultimate example of ‘what goes up must come down.’ The good news is that airlines are starting to pay attention to recycling; the bad news is that they have a long way to go to improve the situation. Fortunately, airlines can overcome any of the challenges to creating in-flight recycling programs, including employee education and involvement, knowledge of the type of waste produced, and a time- and space-efficient system.”

I’m not about to preach about the environmental benefits of recycling, even though airlines practice pathetically little of it, better waste management has the potential of creating jobs nationwide, since according to Colorado Recycles, recycling creates six times as many jobs as landfilling. High time for airlines to step up to the recycling plate.

New National Monument Designations on the Horizon — Maybe

Western towns will benefit if sites are federally protected

An internal memo about more than a dozen natural areas considered for possible National Monument designation has surfaced. The areas that the Department of Interior is studying for management and protection by the National Park Service or other federal agency reported are:

  • San Rafael Swell, UT
  • Montana’s Northern Prairie, MT
  • Lesser Prairie Chicken Preserve, NM
  • Berryessa Snow Mountains, CA
  • Heart of the Great Basin, NV
  • Otero Mesa, NM
  • Northwest Sonoran Desert, AZ
  • Owyhee Desert, OR/NV
  • Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, CA (expansion)
  • Vermillion Basin, CO
  • Bodie Hills, CA
  • The Modoc Plateau, CA
  • Cedar Mesa, UT 
  • San Juan Islands, WA
Predictably, two Utah politicians immediately came out in opposition — just in case the two potential monuments made it even into the official proposal state. Senator Orrin Hatch has already been quoted as threatening do everything in his power to prevent the proposal from moving forward, and Governor Gary Herbert keeps arguing that states should be allowed to manage their own natural resources. Click here for the leaked document that has raised the hackles of these rib-rock Republican aginners.
I suppose Messrs. Hatch and Herbert don’t think of the economic benefit that accrue to their state annually from visitors to Utah’s magnificent national parks:  nearly 1 million Arches, more than 1 million to Bryce Canyon, nearly half a million to Canyonlands, about 600,000 to Capitol Reef and 2,689,840 who visited Zion. And that doesn’t include those who visit Monument Valley Tribal Park at the Arizona border and assorted national monuments, federal wildlife preserves and other public lands under federal jurisdiction. Rather than tourist dollars, I suppose Utah’s H-team prefers landmarks like the enormous, open-pit Kennecott Copper Mine, the world’s largest, just outside of Salt Lake City or uranium mining, even though a tailings pile from a mill near Moab is still leaching into the Colorado River.

The Grand Staircase-Escanlate National Monument in southern Utah was declared and placed under Bureau of Land Management protection under the Clinton Administration, raised howl of indignant protests from the legions of highly placed Utah aginners, including Senator Hatch who called it a “land grab.” It it was, the government grabbed 1.9 million acres, including land eyed for coal mining development Andalex Resources, a Dutch company.

Today, regardless of its stance then, the Kane County Chamber of Commerce now boasts: “Near the National Parks you will also find many State Parks and National Monuments, such as Kodachrome Basin State Park, Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, Pipe Spring National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. With ninety-five percent of county lands administered by State and Federal Agencies, you’ll never run out of things to do, or places to go. Drive roads less traveled, and find a place to call your own.” Unspoken is” and stay, shop, eat and pump gas in Kanab and other nearby towns. And people who never would have heard of the place without national monument status do just that.

Fingers crossed that the government ignores the likes of Hatch Herbert, creates more federally protected areas — and provides the funding to manage them well