The Durango Herald, Sept. 13, on hunting season in southwest Colorado:
It is true. Southwest Colorado is beautiful all year.
But perhaps we need a new adjective to describe the glory of autumn? It is hard to mention it - from the Animas headwaters to the meanderings of the San Juan west of Cortez - without resorting to clichés.
Safe to say that everyone wants to, and should, get out to experience it. Including hunters.
The season is underway for bow hunters. Muzzleloader aficionados are in the woods this week as well. But you may not notice them. Archers and black-powder hunters rely on stealth and close ranges. You will not find many loitering near popular trails.
The rifle hunters appear in October, when four seasons for elk, and then elk and deer open mid-month. They run, with short breaks, until Nov. 20.
Because of their numbers, these hunters (many from out of state) can be hard to miss, even in town, where pickups towing campers and flatbeds loaded with gear congregate in herds.
There is some resentment by local nonhunters of the annual "blaze-orange invasion," and a small part of it is understandable. A few hunters do seem more interested in drinking beer and telling stories around a campfire than stalking game. Evidence attests that some do not do a good job of cleaning up after themselves. But that is a small, visible minority of those who hunt here and take the tradition seriously, those who pass the legacy on to their children and look with pity on anyone who has never savored the taste of perfectly prepared elk.
As for the safety of all concerned during rifle seasons, apocryphal stories abound. However, since hunter-safety courses were mandated in 1970, injuries and fatalities during hunting season have decreased dramatically, and the trend continues.
Those who dislike hunting should be reminded that rifle season makes up 28 days in total. That leaves 48 weeks each year when your favorite trail will not include hunters. Why not explore some other nearby destinations wrapped in fall colors but not populated with elk and deer?
A local saying, a nod to the popularity of cycling in our small city, is "share the road." Can we modify it to acknowledge hunters as well?
Let's welcome them, and share the season.
The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Sept. 8, on Hillary Clinton's stance on fossil fuel development:
Let's simplify, shall we?
Does Hillary Clinton oppose fossil fuel development on public lands? A yes or no would go a long way toward clearing up a murky policy position that has special relevance to Colorado in general and to the Western Slope in particular.
Clinton's campaign recently disputed claims that she has ever called for a ban on fossil fuel extraction on federal lands. But following a Democratic Party debate in New Hampshire in February, some young anti-fracking activists with 350 Action captured her on video saying a ban on fossil fuels development on public lands was "a done deal."
That was after Clinton explained that banning fracking outright was beyond the federal government's authority. Asked to clarify what she meant by "done deal," Clinton said, "... no future extraction."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce seized on that exchange to project what a ban on oil, gas and coal production on federal lands and waters would cost energy-rich states like Colorado.
Clinton's campaign issued a statement accusing the chamber's "Energy Accountability Series" report of "grossly mischaracterizing" her position and went on to explain that Clinton's platform calls for reforming fossil fuel leasing to ensure taxpayers get a fair deal and for expanding renewable energy production on public lands.
That's an amplification of a position paper she released in July that laid out a vision for the Interior Department to bolster the economic impact of the outdoor recreation industry and to make public lands an engine of the "Clean Energy Economy."
But the campaign's reaction to the controversy was all too familiar — too Clintonesque. If Clinton has changed her mind or wants to retract the "no future extraction" position she took early in the campaign, she should just say so. That would be a welcome development.
Instead it looks like she's trying to appeal to both extreme environmentalists and the ordinary Americans who depend on affordable energy. What are voters supposed to think when her campaign deflects and denies something she said?
We need a straight answer about one of the state's most important economic drivers, especially to communities of the Western Slope. We need to know if she'll stand up to 350.org and the rest of the "keep it in the ground" movement.
Even the White House science adviser in the Obama Administration concedes it's unrealistic to halt fossil fuel extraction altogether. The reality is that we will need to rely on burning natural gas, nuclear energy and even outfitting coal plants with carbon capture technologies for some time.
At least Clinton has put herself in a position to be nitpicked. Trump hasn't articulated a clear plan, sticking to big promises — like he'll bring back coal jobs or establish energy independence — without much detail.
If both candidates are smart, they'll stick to an "all of the above" strategy, including renewables, because that's what it's going to take to meet our energy demands. Let's hope the debates offer some distinctions. Energy policy may be the issue that swings undecided voters in western Colorado.
The Gazette, Sept. 13, on boosting Colorado students' vocational skills:
Prediction: Widefield and Peyton school districts will start a national educational trend. Educators will visit this region to learn from these districts and emulate their new program.
Modern American culture tells high school graduates to enroll in college regardless of costs, with or without well-defined career goals. We end up with surpluses of lawyers and various other subject experts who work outside the disciplines they studied. The economy has limited ability to employ art history experts, sociologists, theologians and journalists. Under-employed graduates struggle to pay off college loans, which so often represent a poor investment.
Meanwhile, the market suffers a dearth of cabinet makers, welders, electricians, mechanics and other skilled trade professionals not produced by traditional colleges and universities. Throughout Colorado, school districts are reemphasizing education and training in technical trades for students with talents and interests that don't match or require the traditional four-year-degree model.
The latest step in the right direction — and it is a big step — involves a partnership of Widefield School District 3 and Peyton School District 23-JT. As explained in a news story by Gazette reporter Debbie Kelley, the districts are building a giant first-of-a-kind national training center for skilled trades. The center will begin with woodworking, then expand to metals, construction, automotive and possibly more.
"Some kids are just better with their hands, and that's what they want to do," Peyton Superintendent Tim Kistler said. "We'll be giving students the hands-on skills they need to go into good-paying jobs."
The districts formed a legal entity this summer, the Peyton/Widefield Vocational Education Partnership. They bought a vacant potato-chip manufacturing plant south of the Colorado Springs Airport, and the center will open after extensive remodeling.
"We'll work with businesses and change our curriculum to match industry needs," Kistler said.
"Rather than us as educators telling businesses, 'Here's your kids,' we're listening to businesses that are saying, 'Here's our needs,'" said Widefield Superintendent Scott Campbell.
This is not a shot in the dark, in which educators hope the market wants more high school graduates with honed vocational skills. It is so in demand, industry is already investing. Stiles Machinery, in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has committed $500,000 to $1 million worth of equipment for the woodworking curriculum. Other tool companies and manufacturers are considering additional financial support.
The Stiles commitment required the campus be within 15 minutes of an airport and close to restaurants and hotels. That means the company sees the center as grounds for recruitment. About 77,000 companies across the nation offer jobs that require use of Stiles machines.
"We're training them not just in theory but in practicality for what a job in this field looks like," Campbell said.
We second that. The program will improve the lives of students who have poor odds of success in the culture's one-track-for-all approach to career preparation. If this catches on nationally, as we predict, society will have fewer under-employed college graduates, buried under debt, and more essential builders, repair specialists and skilled technicians. Everyone will benefit.
The Denver Post, Sept. 9, on cleaning up the Gold King mine spill:
New technologies may help clean up the Gold King Mine spill and Bonita Peak Mining District in southwestern Colorado, now that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has formally declared the area a Superfund site.
Some 13 months ago, EPA contractors working to clean up the Gold King Mine instead released millions of gallons of liquid toxins into the Animas River, which carried the orange-tinted water past the towns of Silverton and Durango and into New Mexico and the Navajo Reservation. At the time, the EPA said it took responsibility for the mistake and this week, the agency showed it is ready to keep its word.
That outcome wasn't guaranteed. The tax that supported Superfund expired in 1995, so now each year the EPA must rely on Congress to appropriate enough money to handle the workload. In effect, hundreds of toxic sites nationwide compete for limited dollars, making the EPA careful to avoid adding Superfund projects unless it finds compelling reasons. Many Coloradans feel relieved that the Bonita Peak area passed the test, landed on the Superfund list and now is eligible for whatever money Congress allocates.
The dependency on congressional action, though, underscores why top political leaders in Colorado and New Mexico should stay involved. The U.S. House and Senate will be persuaded to provide the EPA with adequate resources for the complex, long-term work only if they receive regular communication from Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat; New Mexico Gov. Suzanna Martinez, a Republican; and every member of both states' congressional delegations.
Indeed, the really difficult work looms ahead. At least 48 mines pockmark the Bonita Peak Mining District in the heart of the San Juan Mountains — a steep and jagged landscape that is truly spectacular even compared with Colorado's other ranges. The scenic valley today cuddling the town of Silverton was formed by ancient volcanoes that also brought forth gold and silver and fractured the earth both at the surface and far underground. In modern times, snowy weather will delight skiers and snowmobilers and the resulting spring runoff will bring smiles to rafters and kayakers. But all that melted snow also seeps into the old volcanic cracks and abandoned mines, making the Bonita Peak District a difficult place to clean up toxic wastes.
Over the next year, the EPA will gather details about where the icy water oozes and which mines fill with dangerous liquids. That data will help the agency engineer specific plans to clean up the Gold King Mine, prevent future spills and handle vast quantities of polluted water spewing from other abandoned mines.
The Denver EPA branch also discussed an intriguing idea — championed by Silverton Town Manager Bill Gardner — with the agency's Office of Research and Development in Washington. Instead of the old tactics of just building water-retention walls inside an individual abandoned mine, the innovative proposal would use 21st-century technologies to develop a long-term, comprehensive approach to solving the Bonita Peak District's complicated mine drainage problem. It the idea passes expert review, the EPA may implement it not only in Colorado, but also elsewhere in the Rockies.
The EPA deserved reprobation after the Gold King Mine spill, but today should get recognition for keeping its promise to list the project as a national Superfund priority. Continued political leadership, adequate funding, good engineering and new ideas may solve the problem in southwestern Colorado and draw greater attention to the need to fix the abandoned mine waste mess across the West.