A Conundrum in Colorado

  • Posted: August 14, 2021
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My wife and I are approaching the four-decade mark in Colorado. Do forty years qualify as natives, or maybe even that magical mystical morsel of progressive cant, “indigenous”? Both my wife and myself spent the first twenty-five years of our lives in Nebraska, followed by ten in the Golden State with our last four decades in Colorado. There are certainly different schools of thought on the question of our status. But if not Coloradoans, are we then gypsies, perhaps the Peaky Blinders of Littleton?

You can’t pretend to “indigenous” status in Colorado without a special regard for the mountains. The mountains are majestic as well as magical. Without its mountains, Colorado is just a dry suburb of Kansas. Being loyal Coloradans, whether naturalized, “indigenous” or simply assimilated immigrants, we have a relationship of 30 years standing with the mountains of Grand County.

Grand County suits us. Once the mountain hideaway for locals seeking escape from the bling laden gaudiness of the I-70 corridor, i.e. Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen, etc, Grand County long evoked a Norman Rockwell vibe long vanished from the “better” ski mountains. In places like Granby and Kremmling, you can still rub shoulders with real people.

But the downside of living around ski resorts, glitzy or not, is their ugly secret. Ski resorts don’t make much money, something their owners learned long ago. The rustic charm of Grand County endured because its ski resort owners were late coming to that realization. But then, seduced by the familiar serpent disguised as a Power Point wielding MBA, just like Eve before them, Winter Park took a bite out of the apple as well.

Ski resorts are cash machines for property developers and that is who owns ski resorts today. Big pieces of vacant land, simply inexpensive scenery, suddenly sprout mountain homes and million dollar price tags. It is rumored that sometimes people even live in these homes, however don’t be so easily taken in. Nothing is so lifeless as the mountain ski communities during “mud season”.

But even if nobody lives there, a domicile – whether house, condo or apartment – needs natural gas for heat and electricity for television. During the Christmas/New Years stretch, the houses are full, the streets are crowded and the natural gas meters are spinning.

But the land developers operating ski resorts are great white sharks and like all sharks, a school of remoras travel in their wake. They took the already hot markets for mountain real estate and turbocharged them. During the Time of Covid it seems that there are many folks seeking temporary escape from their children, the humorless mask wearing Millennial snowflakes they unwittingly foisted upon an unsuspecting world. These innocent aging waifs populating the cube farms of America’s corporations believe mountain towns offer refuge from the “safety cultures” of their children’s urban playpens.

But as Joe Louis is said to have taunted his opponent, “you can run but you can’t hide”. Even militant martinets, the Warrior Princesses of Mother Earth, like a mountain vacation. Fraser, a town in Grand County often cited as the “icebox” of Colorado, now has pledged solidarity with the Blue Coasts in that highly original piece of virtue signaling – charging ten cents for plastic shopping bags at grocery stores. I guess the sea turtles in the Fraser River must be protected.

But even as the Warrior Princesses wreak wrathful vengeance on social media, the real estate boom in the mountains proceeds apace. And so the MBA’s of Alterra Mountain Company et alia were brought up short on the evening of July 23. At the Winter Park Town Council meeting, representatives of Xcel, the utility providing natural gas service to Grand County, served notice of impending doom to the real estate development community. The trumpets of the Valkries riding to Ragnarok could be heard as the developers exited the meeting for the temporary solace of local watering holes.

There will be a moratorium on natural gas hookups in Winter Park and Fraser until further notice. Aaarghhh!! No new customers!!! “Lions and tigers and bears, oh no”, apartments, condos and houses, no go!! The shrieks from the developers echoed through the time/space continuum. Though it must be admitted that every cloud has a silver lining. After the meeting, the Sea Turtle Community of the Frasier River breathed a collective sigh of relief.

It seems that Xcel was caught with its pants down by the real estate boom in Grand County. Xcel’s gas supply models didn’t reckon on it and as a result, the Xcel natural gas pipeline system is now constrained such that they cannot take on new customers. Perhaps Xcel’s gas system modelers all decided natural gas to be a dead-end career and transferred to where the money is flowing – building climate change models.

Though I have no desire to kick Xcel when they are down. After all, Xcel was one of our best customers back in the day, even though the natural gas side of Xcel is most decidedly the red headed stepchild in the utility’s family.  In point of fact, I do not think capacity to be an issue. Only last year, my wife and I watched Xcel build a brand new 6” pipeline only a few hundred yards from our cabin.

A 6” high pressure pipeline can move an awfully lot of gas but getting the new natural gas capacity everywhere it needs to go is another matter. To service the towns of Winter Park and Frasier, this new pipeline must tie into the Winter Park distribution system.

The kicker is, the source of this existential angst, – this new lateral connection into Winter Park must go through US Forest Service land. From the untutored perspective of an ex-contractor, the lateral appears to be a pretty short line, looking on the map to be no more than a mile or so through easy terrain.

Back in the day as a pipeline engineering company, some naïve client would meet with us to present their proposed pipeline route. As we did most of our work in the western United States, we were practiced in the art of pipelining on government lands. But it was always hard to maintain a straight face when the proposed route required US Forest Service permits. We often had to excuse ourselves for a “rest break”. After checking the cubicles for wayward client personnel, we would explode into gales of helpless laughter.

Clients react badly to hysterical laughter upon presenting their ideas to contractors. Successful contractors have a great deal in common with successful husbands. The wise answer is almost always, “Yes dear!” But permitting pipelines on US Forest Service lands might be compared to wearing a KKK hood in downtown Portland, scheduling a pole dancing class in a nunnery, telling heteronormative white patriarchal jokes in a CRT seminar.

The United States Forest Service per the ever helpful Wikipedia:

“The United States Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture that administers the nation’s 154 national forests and 20 national grasslands. The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of land.”

From my perspective as an unrepentant atheist, the US Forest Service is a “priesthood” worshipping at an altar 193 million acres in size. I say “priesthood” because no other word so well describes their attitude. Just as the Vatican maintains the Sistene Chapel and other shrines to encourage and awe the faithful, so the Forest Service has selected camp sites and areas of public access. But the vast sweep of land in their charge is rendered off limits to all but pilgrims willing to endure monastic hardship, returned to its primeval state as a silent witness of the way it was meant to be, rebuking the childish depredations of unrepentant man.

The other large scale manager of federal lands, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is distinctively different. The BLM operates as a steward, doing their best to balance the long term health of their land with a reasonable utilization of its resources. While BLM managers are not immune from emotive spasms by the Warrior Princesses of Mother Earth, they do a good job working with ranchers, miners, oil & gas, timber, etc.

On the other hand, The Priesthood of the True Faith of Mother Earth is the only way to describe the US Forest Service. Though the concept of a U.S. Marine in the Forest Service is a bit discordant in those righteous precincts, the Forest Service motto might well be “No tree left behind!!”.

The idea that a tree might be cut down in the pristine forests of the Forest Service is the stuff of nightmares. That the tree might be sacrificed to build a fossil fuel pipeline is blasphemy of the blackest sort. And while the mysterious workings of the US Government permitting process may eventually force such apostasy upon them, the priesthood will extract its last measure of blood, fight its last ditch battle.

Thus it is with a sense of irony that the disinterested observer looks to the north of this endangered strip of Grand County’s pristine forest threatened with callous rape by the yellow machines of Xcel’s pipeline contractor. Perhaps 8 miles distant from the proposed pipeline is the southern limit of 2020’s East Troublesome Fire.

While Xcel’s new pipeline lateral would require perhaps 12 acres to be cleared, the East Troublesome Fire left 200,000 acres of mostly pristine forest, the sacred altar of the US Forest Service, a blackened desert. Perhaps the burnt sacrifices offered to idols in pagan times have returned in Adorable times?

The blackened mountainsides left by the East Troublesome fire would be easily visible from the endangered 12 acres of pristine” forest except for an inconveniently placed ridge and – a thick grey smoke haze. There is a persistent haze over Grand County during the summer severely limiting visibility.

It seems that large sections of the altar are burning in other places as well. The smoke from fires in the forests of the West are omnipresent in the skies of Grand County – and the rest of Colorado. It seems that the great western forests are burning everywhere.

It is no secret that the western United States is a colony of the Federal Government. The largest landowner in the West by far is the Federal Government. In most Western states, the surest guarantor of enduring prosperity for many towns and even some cities is the presence of a federal office or center, often the BLM or Forest Service and their contractors.

Thus, in the West, we live, work and play on land owned and managed by our federal overlords. To a great extent, the resources that drive the American economy come from federal lands. I really should say, federal lands managed by the BLM. As noted earlier, the Forest Service believes in a pristine wilderness with man and his works an unwanted intruder.

As is true of all religions infected with the power virus, the need for power and its complementary need to root out heretical rivals begins to consume them. And so it is with the Forest Service. The pragmatic stewardship practiced by the BLM is a canker on their souls. It must be expunged. Jihad must be proclaimed!!

And so we have Tracy Stone-Manning, President Biden’s nominee to head up the BLM. Ms. Stone-Manning has a long history of consorting with the US Forest Service, as snitch, as collaborator and as true prophet excoriating faint hearted members of the Forest Service priesthood that might be tempted into the heresy of stewardship.

Ms. Stone-Manning first gained prominence with her membership in Earth First!, an environmental organization dedicated to stopping the logging industry. Terms like eco-terrorist and resistance fighter are frequently used to describe Ms. Stone-Manning, depending on whether you work for a living or are a Warrior Princess. Earth First! and Ms. Stone-Manning have been closely associated with the spiking of trees as well as a long list of other “environmental actions”, including bombings.

For the uninitiated, tree spiking is the practice of driving metal or ceramic spikes into forest trees. When a chain saw or saw mill blade strikes these hidden spikes, they approximate a shrapnel burst. While perhaps not quite a hand grenade, tree spiking poses a serious danger to any human nearby as well as significant cost in destroyed saws and mill equipment. As of today, the “environmental community” supports the practice of tree spiking, as long as it is practiced “ethically”. While a solid member of the “environmental community”, the Forest Service has shaded its position on tree spiking and other environmental actions in the artful language of the “legal community”.

The Forest Service, aided and abetted by a network of “activist” organizations ranging across the spectrum from jihadi’s such as Earth First! to media darlings like Greenpeace to enablers such as Earthjustice, has prevented rational stewardship of America’s great forests on federal and state lands for many decades now.

Given that those in the “activist” ranks are composed for the most part of lawyers, humanities graduates and Warrior Princesses, perhaps the concept of “entropy” comes as a surprise to those kneeling at the altar of the Earth Mother. Trees get old. Trees get sick, become infested with insects and parasites. The forests become clogged with dead trees, piles of kindling once alive. A truly wild forest is a rat’s nest of dead falls, tangled thickets and clumped grasses. Protected from wildfire and the stewardship of logging operations, the forests become firetraps.

And here we are. Last year in Grand County, the entire town of Grand Lake was evacuated, the neighboring town of Granby was on an hour’s notice for evacuation because of the East Troublesome Fire. This year our skies again are filled with the thick smoke and haze from out of control forest fires.

Millions of acres of US Forest Service managed forest has burnt or is burning. Next summer will bring more of the same. Our forests continue to age, fill with sick and dying trees while underbrush piles ever higher. Just to prove once more that every cloud has a silver lining, the developers of Winter Park will now be delayed in their quest to turn what remains of its rustic charm into an ersatz version of Vail.

And as the forests burn, another 245 million acres of federal lands managed by the BLM are under siege by missionaries from the faith of the Forest Service.

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