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Summit Voice: Weekly roundup

Water wars, chapter 33?

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A new study spells out environmental impacts of new diversions from the Colorado River Basin.

By Bob Berwyn

The tug of war over western water is a never-ending source of fascination and a vital topic for everyone in Colorado. In the past couple of weeks, water users on both sides of the Continental Divide have started digesting details of a massive environmental study that spells out the impacts of new diversions from the Fraser River, a key headwaters stream in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

The story is complex and deserves in-depth and sustained coverage. I took a stab at an overview for the Boulder Weekly after talking to some really smart people about how the proposed Moffat Tunnel Collection System expansion might play out. Will there be enough common ground? Or will the push to take even more water from the Colorado spur an all-out water war?

One thing is for sure: Cheap water shouldn’t be the fuel for population growth and speculative real estate development, and water planning needs to be more fully incorporated into land use planning, including in the upcoming state water plan. If there is a disconnect between the state water plan and land use, the plan is doomed to fail.

Read more about the latest push to divert more of the Colorado River: “Water has never come easy in the West, and when people start eying the last few drops of an already dying river, things can get tense in a hurry, even in an era of Colorado River Kumbaya …”

Morel madness

M-mmmmorels! Photo courtesy Donald Hughes.

M-mmmmorels! Photo courtesy Donald Hughes.

I also reported on the start of the wild mushroom foraging season in Colorado, which starts in the grassy cottonwood bosques along the Front Range, when tasty morels start to sprout in hidden clumps. Morel, along with several other fungi, are important players in wildfire ecology, helping to prepare the soil at a very mollecular level for new shrub, grass and tree growth.

Read more: “Mushroom hunters are a strange bunch to begin with, scurrying through the forest with their eyes glued to all the damp and shady spots on the ground, hoping to find that treasure trove of delectable fungi …”

Frack no more!

And in case you missed it the previous week, the Boulder Weekly also let me ramble on about beer, fracking and travel in the food section, as I tried to track down whether there is any real threat to Colorado brewers. Read the story here: “As a red-blooded American beer enthusiast with deep roots in beer culture, I got a little riled up when I read a press release a few months ago from a group of brewers concerned about the potential impacts of fracking to their water supplies …”

Deep sea dump

For Summit Voice I interviewed marine ecology professor Kerry Howell about her study of human garbage that’s piling up in some of the most remote ocean depths. Heineken beer cans, Uncle Ben’s rice packets and more, all washing off land and down into submarine canyons, where samples across wide swaths of sea bottom, from the Arctic to the Azores, showed as many as 10 pieces of garbage per acre. Rea the story here: “It’s not the best when your feeding apparatus is covered with plastic …”

Pay to play?

Nobody in Colorado covers recreation fees like Summit Voice. The controversial pay to play program is back in the news, as a California judge ruled that the Forest Service violating the law by charging a general public lands admission fee with a widespread adventure pass program. At stake is free access to trailhead parking on public lands across the country. Read: “The Forest Service is prohibited from charging a fee solely for parking. If a visitor does nothing other than park, the fee is solely for parking and is, therefore, plainly prohibited by the REA,” the court ruled, referencing previous court decisions …”

A few more headlines:

Feds see $470 million gap in firefighting budget

Climate: Scientists surprised by level of ocean acidification impacts off the West Coast of U.S.

Can Squaw Valley slow the development juggernaut?

Wolves just can’t catch seem to a break in the West

 

 

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Mushrooms create mini-windstorms to spread spores

Releases of water vapor create convective movements

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A parasol mushroom growing in Austria. bberwyn photo.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — We’ve all heard of microclimates, where topography and other factors can affect weather on a very local level. But new research suggests that mushrooms take that concept to whole new level, creating their own mini-windstorms to help spread spores.

Biologists have long thought that the spores produced by a mushroom’s cap simply drop into the wind and blow away. But observers have noted that spores disperse even when the air is still. It took a detailed study by fluid dynamics researchers find the answer.

Using high-speed videography and mathematical modeling of spore dispersal in commercially grown oyster and Shiitake mushrooms, they found that the fungi created their wind by releasing water vapor. The vapor cools the air locally, and this creates convective cells that move the air around in the mushroom’s vicinity. Continue reading

Morning photo: Mushroom madness

Forest comes alive with fungi

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A wild Agaricus mushroom, closely related to commercial button mushrooms found in grocery stores.

FRISCO —It’s pretty hard to walk anywhere in local forests and fields without stumbling across a patch of mushrooms. Lingering monsoon rains and relatively warm temperatures have fostered an incredible diversity of fungi this year.In many years, we’ve had at least a couple of frosts by this time of year, which generally means the end of the season for all but the heartiest species. During a short walk near Officers Gulch Thursday I spotted more than 30 species in less than 15 minutes before losing count, and there are at least a half-dozen species growing in the landscaped areas around our Frisco townhome complex. Get out and enjoy it now, because it may well be several years before we have another season like this one. Continue reading

Morning photo: Saturday …

Whew!

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Here’s how the day started in Summit County, with a little help from Instagram.

FRISCO — Labor Day weekend got off to a good, if somewhat soggy, start, with visitors from the Front Range and around the country thronging the high country for one last summer weekend, even as ski resorts started ramping up sales efforts for season passes. But the lingering monsoon has kept things pretty warm. The moist air acts like a blanket; so far we haven’t had those first few crisp nights that often do in late August, but nobody is complaining. Continue reading

Sunday magazine: Mushroom mania in Colorado

From tasty meals to myco-remediation …

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One of the more unusual fungi found in Colorado forests. bberwyn photo.

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Chanterelles.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Fungi fanatics are calling it one of the best seasons in recent memory, as steady summer rains spurred a bumper crop of stinky squid, shaggy ink cap and purple slime mushrooms, not to mention delectables like porcini and chanterelles.

This past weekend, a handful of Colorado towns held festivals to celebrate mushrooms in all their diverse glory — if we’re all connected intellectually via the electronic web, then we’re probably also connected biologically, and fungi are one of the key threads that holds the web of life together.

In Telluride, amidst the good-natured fun of mushroom-themed parades and cook-fests, scientists discussed the latest research on myco-remediation. There’s promise that known — along with as-yet unstudied species — that fungi could help with a wide range of environmental and human health issues.

The mushroom festival maintained a lively social media feed on Twitter, sharing images like this:

In some situations, fungi could help clean up lead contamination, and Forest Service scientists are trying to improve restoration of dwindling whitebark pine forests with fungal applications.

In Scandinavia, forest researchers have discovered that fungi play a greater role in the carbon cycle than previously understood, and there are also concerns that a warmer and wetter future world could spur the growth of forest-killing fungi. Continue reading

Morning photo: Forest finds

Berries-n-shrooms!

Wild strawberry Colorado

Wild strawberries are a special forest (and meadow) treat in Colorado.

FRISCO — Even a short walk in the woods can be rewarding these days, what with wild (and delicious) edible mushrooms popping up all over, along with a veritable feast of berries, which always do much better in wet years, especially when the rains are followed by some warm and sunny days. All this on a day that also brought the first snow to the Colorado high country, although we probably shouldn’t even think of it as the first snow, since it’s only been a few short weeks since the last time frozen white stuff fell from the sky. But for some reason, in August, it does feel like the first snow of the new season, while a July dusting (also not unheard of) seems to belong with the past winter. In any case, get out and enjoy summer’s bounty now! Continue reading

Morning photo: Forest friends

A break from winter

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A parasol mushroom growing in a forest in Upper Austria. This is a variety I’ve not yet found in Colorado, though the guidebooks say a similar species does grow in the U.S.

FRISCO — After writing a story about the importance of biodiversity, I went back to a folder from last July to look over the mushroom images I shot during a few forest visits in Austria. The biodiversity story got me thinking about how some of the mushrooms I found in Europe were completely different from anything I’ve ever seen in the West, while a few other species were almost identical. Why is it that some species are common on both sides of the Atlantic, while others are more specialized to either the Rockies or the forests of Central Europe? I’m not really sure, but I think it has something to do with the plant communities. Since some fungi are in specialized symbiotic relationships with certain species of shrubs and trees, they may not be able to grow if those plants are present. Maintaining healthy forests requires making sure that all the constituent elements of the ecosystem are there, and in Colorado, we know so little about the fungi that are a key part of the ecology that we may just be stumbling in the dark. Continue reading

Friday Fotos: Secrets!

Shhhhh — don’t tell!

Dylan shreds a “secret” powder stash at Vali, Colorado, a few years ago.

FRISCO — It’s hard to keep something a secret when you post pictures of it, but that’s part of the fun and charm of this week’s edition of the weekly #FriFotos Twitter chat, one of the coolest social media events on the web. As a writer and photographer, I’m constantly torn between sharing the amazing places and stories I discover in the course of reporting and keeping them as private secrets, In some cases, people ask me specifically to not give away certain locations. In other situations, it’s part of my job to uncover dirty little (or big) secrets held by big corporations or even the government. For FriFotos, I’ll steer away from the muckraking and stick with sharing some of the best secrets from around my home stomping grounds in Summit County, Colorado and a few other spots.

Got a secret you’r itching to share? Upload your pic, tag it with #FriFotos and join the conversation. Continue reading

Morning photo: A few more fungi

Mushrooms are popping!

Mid-day sun backlights the gill of this wild Colorado mushroom. In this iPhone shot, I also used an Instagram filter to enhance the colors.

SUMMIT COUNTY — Tis the season — for fungi, that is, as monsoon moisture has help spur a good crop of wild forest mushrooms. While some people see them as the equivalent of low-life slugs, mushrooms are actually a vital and little understood component of forest ecosystems. Along with helping to break down dead leaves, grass and branches, the underground part of the fungal organisms interact with the roots of trees and other plants, helping to foster a nutrient cycle and maintaining a chemical balance in the forest floor. Continue reading

Morning photo: Back in Colorado …

Late summer

Midday light can be harsh, but in this case, the sun shining top-dpwn helped by backlighting the gills of this forest mushroom. I used an Instagram filter with this iPhone photo to enhance the colors.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The mushrooms are popping and generous August rains have helped spur a late surge of wildflowers in the area … meanwhile, haze from distant wildfires help filter and soften the light — all in all, good conditions for photography in the high country. Continue reading

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