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Mountain bikers dispute charges against national park trail

Big Bend National Park. MAP COURTESY NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

IMBA says trail planning process was started under a national partnership to promote mountain bike opportunities in parks

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A Boulder-based bicycling group is defending its advocacy for a mountain bike trail in Big Bend National Park. Conservation and watchdog groups charge that the National Park Service erred by starting construction of the trail before giving the public a chance to comment on the final decision — as required by federal law.

The International Mountain Biking Association doesn’t dispute what it calls a procedural error on the part of the agency, but says it’s been partnering with the park service since 2005 to expand cycling opportunities in national parks.

The bike group is also challenging other statements made by critics of the trail in a statement on its website. Some of the critics have said the Big Bend trail would be the first in a national park, while IMBA points out that there are trails on other lands administered by the agency, including Golden Gate National Recreation Area, north of San Francisco, seen by some as the birthplace of mountain biking. See a full list of authorized mountain roads and trails in national park units here. Continue reading

Biodiversity: Monarch butterflies in steep decline

Monarch butterflies during migration. PHOTO COURTESY GENE NEIMINEN/USFWS.

GMO crops blamed for significant 10-year drop in population numbers

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY —A decades-long downward trend in Monarch butterfly numbers is expected to continue this year, with reports from the World Wildlife Fund and other sources indicating there may be almost one-third fewer butterflies making the northward flight from Mexico this spring and summer.

This year’s steep decline may, in part, be due to last summer’s severe drought in Texas, which resulted in less food for the showy insects as they traveled south. But year-to-year fluctuations don’t hide the overall long-term trend of population decline.

“The latest information shows that Monarchs will be down from 25 to 30 percent this year, and that has been part of a disturbing trend the last few years,” said Craig Wilson, a senior research associate in the Center for Mathematics and Science Education and a long-time butterfly enthusiast.

This year, according to the Texas Monarch Watch, Monarchs covered about 7.14 acres of forest in their Mexican breeding grounds compared to 9.9 acres last year, and it shows a continued long-term downward trend in Monarch population since official surveys began in 1994. Continue reading

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Texas timber industry takes a $97 million hit from wildfires

An engine at the Nolan County Complex sprays water on mesquite pile earlier this summer. PHOTO COURTESY STEVE PAES. Click on the image to see more photos from the Texas wildfires at the Inciweb Gallery.

175 million cubic feet of timber up in smoke

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Along with causing several deaths and burning thousands of homes, the latest round of wildfires in east Texas has destroyed almost $100 million worth of timber, resulting in economic costs far beyond the immediate cost of fighting fires and the value of the destroyed homes, the Texas Forest Service reported this week.

“Along with the heavy toll on people and property, these fires have significantly damaged the forestland — and the forest sector as a whole — in East Texas,” said Chris Edgar, a forest resource analyst with Texas Forest Service. “It’s a tremendous loss for the East Texas timber industry.”

In 2007, forest industries funneled $427 million into the economy in Cass and Marion counties while employing 1,330 people with a payroll of $72 million. More information on the Texas wildfires is online at Inciweb. Continue reading

Bastrop Fire in Texas now 30 percent contained

Texas fires claimed more than 1,000 homes in past three days

Bastrop Fire map, Texas wildfires

The Bastrop fire complex near Austin, Texas is now 30 percent contained.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The 33,000-acre Bastrop Fire, one of the most destructive of the recent Texas wildfires, is now 30 percent contained, according to the Texas Forest Service, but the fire is still threatening a powerplant, as well as historic cabins in Bastrop State Park.

The western flank of the fire is still a threat to eastern edge of Bastrop, where 5,000 residents have been evacuated. The Bastrop Fire burned 785 homes during Labor Day weekend, according to the Sept. 7 update from the Texas Forest Service. The agency also said that 238 homes were burned by other fires in the past three days. Continue reading

Texas Labor Day fires destroy at least 700 homes; special team deployed to search burned rubble around Bastrop

Volunteer firefighters on the Baker Fire in Texas. PHOTO BY ROBIN P. BIBLE VIA INCIWEB.

Dangerous fire conditions persist across much of the state

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — A surge of new wind-driven wildfires in Texas may have destroyed up to 700 homes in just two days during the Labor Day weekend, the Texas Forest Service said in its daily update.

There is still conflicting information about deaths resulting from the Bastrop Fire, with two reported fatalities and two additional deaths possible. A special 100-member search team has been deployed to search burned homes in the Bastrop area.

Strong winds on the west side of Tropical Storm Lee re-ignited earlier fires and quickly fanned new blazes into nearly uncontrollable infernos, including a monster fire in Bastrop County, near Austin, that’s grown to 30,000 acres. Firefighters still haven’t been able to contain the Bastrop Fire despite repeated attacks by air tankers. Numerous neighborhoods have been evacuated as firefighters focus on protecting homes in the area.

On Monday (Sept. 5) the Texas Forest Service responded to 22 new fires burning across 7,544 acres, including 10 new large fires. In the past week, the agency has responded to 181 fires burning on 118,413 acres, according to the daily Inciweb summary of the Texas wildfires. Continue reading

High winds drive new Texas firestorms

Labor Day weekend brings more wildfire woes to the state

The Ranger Hill Fire, one of dozens of wildfires burning Texas. PHOTO CREDIT: ANTHONY BEAVER.

Current Texas wildfires. Click on the image to go to the live map at the Texas Forest Service website.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — High winds and low humidity across much of Texas have worsened the fire situation in the state, with residents and officials reporting numerous new fires during the holiday weekend, including a firestorm in Bastrop County that’s reportedly 10 miles wide and moving at 40 to 50 mph.

The Bastrop grass fire is reportedly threatening up to 1,000 homes in the area and had burned across 14,000 acres by late Saturday.

Texas firefighters in the state have responded to 141 fires in the past seven days. The Texas Forest Service reported 21 new fires burning across more than 1,000 acres on September 3, with another five new fires reported by 12 p.m. Sept. 4.

High winds could hamper firefighting activities in some areas, limiting the use of aircraft. The winds could also stir up older fires and re-ignite smoldering embers. Updated information online at Inciweb. Follow #txfire on Twitter for real-time updates from multiple sources. More info at the Texas Interagency Coordination Center and at Inciweb Continue reading

New wildfires flaring up in Texas as drought worsens

Texas Forest Service responds to 224 new fires in the past week

Texas Waco fire Texas fires 2011

Firefighters outlined by the flames at the Waco Fire in Texas. PHOTO COURTESY MARY K. HICKS.

Texas wildfires map.

Major wildfires are burning all around Texas as summer winds down. Click on the map to visit the live interactive version at the Texas Interagency Coordination Center.

By Summit Voice

Sept. 14 update:

Weather may bring some relief to parts of the drought-stricken state

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Texas Forest Service officials said Tuesday that, by their latest count, almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed by wildfires since Labor Day weekend in central and east Texas. In the past week, the agency has responded to a total of 127 fires burning on about 9,000 acres.

Since the holiday weekend, aircraft have flown for more than 1,800 hours and dropped more than 5.5 million gallons of water and retardant. Six heavy airtankers, three water scoopers, 15 single-engine airtankers, four C-130 MAFFS airtankers, 13 helicopters and 17 air attack aircraft and lead planes are being utilized. Eleven Texas Army National Guard Blackhawk and Chinook helicopters from San Antonio, Austin and Grand Prairie have been crucial in the fight as well.

The latest drought monitor shows 95 percent of the state in extreme drought, with 81 percent in exceptional drought . Seasonal outlooks continue to indicate drying throughout the fall, so the drought is expected to worsen.

Labor Day update:

SUMMIT COUNTY — With no relief in sight for drought-stricken Texas, new wildfires are erupting around the state, including the 6,600-acre Ranch Fire, in Palo Pinto County, which has destroyed at least 39 homes and several RVs. Another fire in Wise County is threatening 200 homes, and the Crab Prairie Fire has burned two homes. An overview of the fire is available at Inciweb.

About 80 percent of Texas is now classified as being under severe to extreme drought conditions and the long-term outlook calls for continued dryness, with above-normal temperatures at least through autumn. Wildfires have burned across 3.52 million acres in the state — the worst wildfire ever for the Lone Star state. Six of the state’s 10 largest wildfires burned in April 2011 and 20 of the largest 40 on record have burned during this year. More info online here. Continue reading

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