Silence of the canaries |

Silence of the canaries

Matt Zalaznick

Vail may be No. 1 in the ski rankings, but Aspen appears to be ahead on the environment. Both the ski company and the city have made the environment, particularly global warming, a priority in the Roaring Fork Valley. A group of Aspen-area agencies is forming a coalition called the Canary Initiative to come with up ideas to stave off climactic changes that could kill a ski resort. Vail’s still a spectacular place. The ski still blazes blue, the hillsides still gush in greenery, and the snow still falls. But pollution is creeping into the picture postcard. An early alert may be coming from Vail’s Gore Creek, a big part of that postcard. Scientists say that the creek’s bugs, backbone of the stream’s food chain, are disappearing and human activity is the most likely culprit. The results are only from one round of counting, so biologists have yet to determine whether the evaporation of insects is a one-time shock or a more troubling trend. What they’re more sure of is the decline is caused by various sediments – mainly sand – that has spilled into the stream from I-70 and nearby construction sites. They’re also certain that if the bugs decline, the trout that make a stretch of Gore Creek a renowned gold medal fishery – and the businesses that benefit from the fishing traffic – will suffer. The sand keeps I-70 from freezing over. An unfrozen I-70 keeps the tourists coming. A clogged, sand-banked Gore Creek, however, could scare them off. Real estate, along with tourism, keeps the local economy churning. But construction is churning up the soils and sands spilling into the creek. Who wants to buy houses and condos, or stay in a hotel, on a crippled creek? So it’s more than just tree-huggers and naturalists who have to be worried about the health of Gore Creek’s critical creepy crawlies. The grass-roots effort in defense of the creek is strong. The Eagle River Watershed Council has been trying to stop the sand since it started leaking from the top of Vail Pass via one the stream’s infected tributaries, Black Gore Creek. The group has had some success, but the solution costs more than $20 million and that’s only to keep any more sand from leaking into the creek. Unfortunately, there are piles and piles of sand on the hillsides below I-70 in danger of oozing into the scenic waterway. The political will on behalf of the Gore creeks has been lackluster. State lawmakers, county commissioners and local council members regularly show up for the Watershed Council’s tours of the polluted streams. But that rarely translates into any major environmental initiatives. And that is troubling. If the health of the creek that flows through the heart of Vail Village doesn’t jolt the community into save the stream, what will it take for us to protect the skies and slopes and forests? Smog? Filthy rivers? A ski season that starts with one slope open on Christmas and fizzles out by Presidents Day? M.Z. Vail, Colorado

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