Category: Vault: Chronicle

From the pages of the Rocky Mountain Chronicle

Northern Might

Northern Might

North Fort Collins is separated from the rest of the city by the Cache la Poudre River, a geographic break that historically kept Hispanic and other foreign families segregated from downtown. In recent years, development pressures have initiated a makeover for the north-side, but citizens and city officials remain concerned that changes may impact the social and cultural fabric of historical neighborhoods.

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Northern Might

ANorthernMightRMCcovers the north-side makeover continues, longtime Fort Collins residents assert their heritage.

By Joshua Zaffos

Rocky Mountain Chronicle, February 28, 2008

Frank Martinez calls the new Northside Aztlán Community Center “gorgeous.” He repeats the compliment three times during a twenty-minute phone conversation, emphatic in his praise.

And after a tour through the $10 million building, which opened last November, it’s obvious what he means. Light filters through the windows of the expansive open lobby, and the center’s 
exposed steel and cast
 concrete purposely evoke 
an industrial-chic atmosphere. The state-of-the-art
 construction from energy-
efficient components and
 recycled materials of the 
former building will probably 
earn LEED (Leadership in 
Energy and Environmental 
Design) certification. Bilingual signage and Latin American-inspired artistic elements of glass and concrete fuse the center with a creative display of multiculturalism.

Martinez grew up at the old Northside Aztlán, running around the playground, participating in sports, staying off the streets. “Northside was huge for me,” he says. “It really did give me the confidence to succeed in school and at sports.” After graduating high school and serving in the Army, Martinez came back to work at the center, coaching and mentoring children as he was coached and mentored when he was young. He gave up his job when the new building opened to finish his degree and pursue other work, but he helped hire his replacement. Now Martinez is a member of the center’s advisory council, an unofficial committee that serves as a liaison between the facility and the community.

“I’m familiar with a lot of the insides and outsides,” Martinez says, “and I’m worried about the squeezing out of programs and it not being a community center that is accessible to all people in the community. That’s what made Northside beautiful.”

The difference between “gorgeous” and “beautiful” is a feeling among local families, many of them Latino, that the spiffy, new facility doesn’t offer the same amenities as the old center — or that it does but with prohibitive new fees and rules.

In other words, the multicultural vibe needs to be more than decoration.

Discriminating Geography

Outside the doors of the Aztlán Center, other changes are afoot on the north side of Fort Collins. There are plans for an outdoor amphitheater and a kayak park. Mixed-use developments, combining apartments and “loftominiums” with shops and offices, are popping up all over. Many of them are similarly using sustainable-design elements and being marketed to the cultural “creative class,” coveted by retailers and Realtors. In this context, the north side is an untapped frontier for growth, where Old Town can meld with plans for the city’s Beet Street cultural and arts area.

Since its settlement, Fort Collins has grown south from Old Town, away from the Cache la Poudre River. At the turn of the twentieth century, the Great Western Sugar Company sited its sugar-beet factory north of the river, and farm-labor families populated the surrounding neighborhoods — first Germans from Russia and then Hispanic families from New Mexico and farther south.

German Russian 
immigrants, unwelcome 
to live among the general 
population of Fort Collins, 
moved into the north-side neighborhoods of Buckingham and Andersonville in the early nineteen hundreds. Mexican Americans later followed and mixed with the German Russians. In 1923, Great Western started a new settlement
 and provided straw, lime, gravel and lumber for families to build two-room adobe homes. Workers could, over time, purchase a house and property for under $200. Latino residents called the area La Colonia Española. Today, it’s called Alta Vista, and all three neighborhoods are known as the colonias. Adobe homes are still scattered among the blocks, and the area remains — for the moment, at least — predominantly Latino.

Tony Rodriguez’s home in Andersonville sits on the busy corner of Lemay Avenue and Vine Drive, where trains rumble by and cars back up at the intersection all day. As a young boy, Rodriguez moved to Fort Collins with his parents, migrant farmworkers from Texas. Rodriguez and his wife have lived in the home for 58 years, raising five children along the way.

“It was a rough life, let me put it that way,” Rodriguez says of his youth. “I didn’t have an education. I had to start working the fields all over.” He keeps a thin moustache on his thin face, and his creased cheeks are a testament to years of outdoor labor.

North-side residents lived with pollution from the factory and passing trains. The city dump was adjacent to the neighborhoods. River flooding was a looming danger each spring and summer. When the families crossed the river into downtown Fort Collins, they ran into a different set of threats, from prejudiced citizens who refused to associate with them or sell them goods.

Neither the City of Fort Collins nor Larimer County wanted jurisdiction over the colonias, so roads were unpaved and muddy, and houses relied on wood stoves for heat. Into the Seventies, families had outhouses, because the government refused to extend a sewer line to the region.
 A 2003 historical report for the city (PDF link) calls the area “a geography of discrimination.” In this void, AltaVista elected unofficial mayors to advocate for the most basic services, such as street maintenance and indoor plumbing.

“The town here — the racism was real bad,” Rodriguez recalls. “When we came here, [shop windows] said, ‘No Mexicans, White Trade Only’.” He pauses as his mind fast-forwards to the present. “It’s a little better.”

Over time, progressive citizens advocated for the removal of signs that denied Mexican Americans access to stores. And the north side’s cultural identity finally got a physical home
 of sorts, when the City of Fort Collins built the Northside Community Center in 1977 at the site of the former landfill.

New and Old Kids on the Block

On a weekday morning, the new Northside Center bustles
 with kids shooting hoops in the gym and grownups working 
out with free weights and on treadmills in the fitness center. There’s a Tai Chi class underway and a children’s education program, themed around “Dora the Explorer,” in progress. Other programs teach cooking, Spanish, badminton and Salsaerobics, among dozens of other activities for children, adults and seniors.

The building is two-and-a-half times larger than the old center. The new gym — “the Cadillac of the whole facility,” says city Recreation Manager Steve Budner — has an elevated track around its perimeter and is three times bigger than the former center’s single basketball court.

But they don’t hold any funerals at the new center.

It used to be that every once in a while, if they didn’t have enough money for a loved one’s funeral, a north-side family would approach the staff of Northside Aztlán, which would arrange for a reception at the center, free of charge.

“A lot of the people we’re talking about here have a hard time paying for 
a funeral, let alone a reception,” Frank Martinez says. He estimates about five to fifteen services used to take place at the old building every year, and the assistance built loyalty toward the community center among residents of the colonias.

Kids under eighteen used to walk in free to the center and spend afternoons playing sports and games. That doesn’t happen anymore either. Now, children ages six to fifteen must pay a dollar to use the new center each day, while teens must
 pay two dollars. Punch cards for multiple visits do offer cost breaks. “And although it’s just one or two dollars,” Martinez says, “there are kids that I’ve talked to who are not going.”

(A lounge, with pool tables, computers, a big-screen TV and PlayStation, is open for no charge.)

If the fees sound minimal, think of a family with two working parents and two children in need of after-school activities. Now the family must pay $10 a week
— $500 a year — for weekday access, a significant amount for people struggling to buy groceries and pay property taxes or rent and utility bills.

The center also offers scholarship funds that reduce fees for children and adults who qualify for federal- or state-assistance programs. But Martinez says some parents who don’t qualify for other government programs still need financial help. Some are overloaded with work or otherwise reluctant to fill out the forms.

Martinez has also heard from children who fear that rates for summer sports programs, including basketball leagues, will be raised. Martinez remembers back when a team used to pay $10 total to enroll to play. Last year in the old facility, each child paid $25 or $40, depending on the league, but higher fees could reduce participation among kids from low-income families.

“It’s a program that’s been used to keep kids off the streets and out of gangs, and it’ll be interesting to see how that works,” Martinez tells me. “It really does create a home for the kids all summer. Hopefully, that’s not lost.”

“A lot of activities were free and it was a good place to find adult leadership and guidance,” Budner says, “and I think we still have that here. The old Northside was a close community. I think this was pretty scary to a lot of people.”

Budner, who has spent 22 years working for the city’s recreation department, has a neat, graying goatee, and today,
as we walk around the new Northside, 
he wears a mock turtleneck and a blue sweater with a city recreation logo. He is disarmingly friendly and not at all scary, but he realizes that he is the face of a new regime (the recreation department is now headquartered at Northside).

The center has no plans to raise summer league costs, Budner says, but
 he acknowledges that the facility won’t accommodate free funerals or other family services. Everyone must pay $25 per hour for a community room, which includes access to a full kitchen.

Martinez responds that the benefits of waiving costs in the dozen or so cases each year — and the community pride toward the center fostered by the assistance — outweigh the $150 or $200 the city would collect for each event.

As far as the new fees, Budner says the changes bring Northside’s operations and rates in line with other city facilities, although he recognizes the complications
 regarding the scholarship applications.

“We do whatever we can to get that filled out,” Budner says, including contacting teachers when parents are unavailable. “We
 do not turn anyone away.” He says he’s also encouraging longtime staff to reach out to children who formerly used the center but haven’t shown up to the new space.

“I think we’re seeing more new faces than old faces,” Budner says. “We’re glad to see the new faces, but we don’t want to lose the old faces either.”

A Brewing Storm

If there is an industrial
 face to the north side
 these days, it’s New Belgium Brewing Company. Since 1995, the enviro-friendly microbrewery abuts the Buckingham neighborhood at Linden and Buckingham streets. (The sugar beet factory site is now the city’s streets department headquarters.)

Upstairs from the brewery’s tasting room, its flowing taps and overflowing crowd, Kim Jordan, New Belgium’s CEO, keeps her office where the sounds of clinking glasses and buzzed conversation provide background ambiance.

“I love this neighborhood. We moved here because we love this part of town,” Jordan says. “But sometimes it makes me sad, because I feel like it’s not as integrated with New Belgium or the downtown.”

The disintegration, as it were, of the north-side neighborhoods has bubbled 
up in a few standoffs in recent years. The Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Fair, which happens one weekend every September at the “Oxbow” property, bounded by both New Belgium and Buckingham, has faced criticism for clogging neighborhood streets with parked cars. New Belgium’s Tour de Fat, an annual bike parade and carnival of sorts that brings out thousands of costumed bicycle riders and beer drinkers, has also drawn complaints about noise, traffic and public intoxication. And sounds from the brewery’s late-summer, bike-in movie series in its parking lot are said to echo through the neighboring streets.

If the colonias still elected a local mayor, Betty Aragon-Mitotes would probably be the perennial frontrunner. She has lived,
 on and off, in Buckingham since the 1960s, and she is a frequent spokeswoman and ambassador for the neighborhoods. She led local opposition to a truck-bypass route and helped build support for the purchase and preservation of the Romero House, an adobe home in Andersonville, as a museum of local Hispanic culture.

Aragon-Mitotes says the events and crowds, despite their green credentials and philanthropic motives, are noisy shake-ups to a neighborhood that has long suffered
 a range of affronts and injustices. But her concerns also ring as a preemptive, defensive stance against proposed development.

The Bohemian Foundation, under the control of local billionaire Pat Stryker, owns the Oxbow and has plans to build an outdoor amphitheater on the property, which could regularly host concerts and events, attracting thousands of people through Buckingham, on a nightly basis for months. Aragon-Mitotes says the constant crowds would be a major imposition on the neighborhood, and she’s even more worried about the venue triggering an increase in property taxes, which would price out longtime residents who get by on fixed incomes or modest wages.

“The music venue is the most important issue facing the Buckingham neighborhood,” Aragon-Mitotes says.

Bohemian Foundation staff and a project design firm met with local residents in April 2007 to talk about plans. (The Coloradoan ran a below-the-fold, front-page article about the meeting; the above-the-fold front-page story on a looming snowstorm had an ironic headline: “Brewing storm could whiten city.”)

Merry Hummel, the Bohemian Foundation’s executive director, says, via email, that plans for the Oxbow are still conceptual, and the organization plans to meet again with neighbors before submitting its plans to the city.

“We don’t have specifics to share at this time, but we are committed to talking and working with our neighbors,” Hummel writes. “As you may know, the Bohemian Foundation believes in creativity, imagination and spirit and is dedicated to improving Fort Collins, and our plans for the Oxbow will focus on this mission.”

Infill, Then Move Out

Anne Aspen of the Fort Collins planning department walks into our meeting at the city offices on North College Avenue carrying an armload of rolled-up maps. She unrolls them all, and we focus on one that frames the north side of the city.

From a bird’s-eye view, north Fort Collins looks vastly open. Huge parcels of vacant and former agricultural land surround the colonias. On Aspen’s map, every sizable chunk of green space is labeled, in Sharpie, with the name of a prospective development.

A development with 163 residential units is already undergoing city review. A conceptual project, in the early stages, would include about a thousand residential units and another 270,000 square feet of commercial real estate, right next to Alta Vista. Another conceptual development could build low-density, high-end student housing designed to look like single-family cottages. An open lot along Vine Drive, near Conifer and College, isn’t markered, but Aspen tells me a “major retailer” is interested.

The North College corridor, heading out of Old Town, is the city’s “most promising and underserved area for growth,” says Mike Jensen, of Fort Collins Real Estate. “I’d love to be a property owner 
in those neighborhoods, because they’re going to make out.”

The expansive redevelopment, plus
 a number of urban-infill loft projects, requires some infrastructure overhauls. The city has already spent $10 million on control measures to reduce flood-prone property and open up parcels to commercial and residential development. Next, the city plans to realign Vine Drive and expand the street’s intersection with Lemay Avenue. The expansion alone will cost around $20 million, and its impacts on Andersonville, including Tony Rodriguez’s home, aren’t clear.

“There’s a lot of culture and a lot of pride in these neighborhoods, and it’ll be interesting to see if these people will get forced out,” Frank Martinez says. “People look and say, ‘That’s low-income, that’s rundown.’ To the people that live there, it’s home.”

The colonias are already seeing an infusion of young couples and individuals looking for reasonably priced property near Old Town. That isn’t a bad thing — to have a 
new and diverse next generation of homeowners who appreciate the neighborhoods. But it’s likely that nearby quarter-million-dollar lofts and a new wave of shopping centers will also inflate property values — and taxes — among the colonias, which could, over time, eliminate affordable housing in the area.

Jensen says it’s important not to displace the “fiber and fabric of these neighborhoods.”

“I think everyone is pretty committed to [affordable housing] and sustainable and environmentally conscious growth,” he adds.

Betty Aragon-Mitotes isn’t quite
 so optimistic. She walked away from
the affordable-housing task group of UniverCity Connections, a partnership among city-government officials, Colorado State representatives and civic boosters, because she thought the discussions 
were focused on student housing, not accommodations for low-income families.

The task force has suggested, preliminarily, that one-fifth of new housing along the Mason Street Corridor, which is slated for 
a public, bus-rapid transit line, should be affordable. Mixed-use projects in Denver and Boulder already lock in below-market-priced units to rent and own. Whether Fort Collins city officials and developers will support the targets when the time comes — and the case can be made that it already has — is another thing. New and under-construction loft projects around downtown have hardly any price-restricted housing.

“We have every right to be in this community, and I feel like we’re being pushed out,” Aragon-Mitotes says. “Is that what Fort Collins is about? Becoming a city for the elite? I’ve heard that my neighborhood is not going to be around in five years.”

Moving History Forward

None of this is unique to Fort Collins. It’s just another case of gentrification in America. But the especially distressing part for our city is that much of the north-side growth is catering to the so-called creative class, the progressive and environmentally conscious people who drink microbrews, watch independent films, shop at farmer’s markets and bike instead of drive — the people who are supposed to embrace community diversity among incomes and cultures.

“I’d like to think that, too,” Kim Jordan says of the targeted populace, when I raise that conundrum and ask if she thinks the decline of the colonias’ culture and affordability is inevitable.

“The future? To me it is, Can we be extraordinary?” Jordan says, with a daring tone that would just sound like rhetoric 
if she hadn’t launched New Belgium as a model for sustainable and profitable business. “I think we’d lose a lot in turning our backs on recognizing the Hispanic contribution to Fort Collins, and the same thing goes for the agricultural contribution.”

But hope is not yet foreclosed upon.

Aragon-Mitotes and others are trying to raise funds to build an interpretive center next to the Romero House museum to accommodate funeral services and other family events in the future. The city is also considering a playground, basketball courts and a park at the streets department site that was once the beet factory.

Most significantly, neighborhood discussions have begun to consider landmark designation for the colonias. Residents met with city staff, including Anne Aspen and Karen McWilliams, the city historic preservation planner, in November to talk about options, including the differences between protection of individual adobe homes, and others that represent the “vernacular architecture” of the neighborhoods, versus recognition of entire blocks.

Landmark preservation would recognize the area’s history and create financial incentives for homeowners to rehabilitate and repair houses, McWilliams says. It would also provide greater protection against out-of- sync development next to the colonias and prohibit property owners from demolishing structures from within designated boundaries. (Some residents have questioned whether preservation status could also have negative effects, banning some renovations.)

Aspen hasn’t heard of any interest in specifically targeting the colonias for a full-scale makeover. A developer would be “stupid” to do so, she says.

Aragon-Mitotes is drumming up support among neighbors and hopes to submit an application for city historical preservation soon.

“The recognition they’ll receive in the public realm will be huge,” McWilliams says. “I think it will be a great source of pride for the communities themselves. Finally, after years, Fort Collins will formally recognize their contributions, instead of them being an afterthought.”

The reality is that, despite the anxieties and setbacks, the culture and character of the north side are still visible among the homes of the colonias and even the design of the new Northside Aztlán Community Center. Fort Collins is perched at a moment when the city can decide how to identify and incorporate these elements, beyond old and new architectural designs.

“There was a lot of history in that old facility, and we want to bring that history forward,” Steve Budner says of Northside Aztlán. “We have the ability to impact the lives of so many people and make a positive impact for the rest of their lives. That’s what we had at the old Northside, and we want that here.”

In Frank Martinez’s mind, the connections between accessible community center and thriving community are inseparable.

“I think the center is very symbolic
 of the north side,” he says. “I count it as a resource, where people can come together, where they can meet and they can work. It’s always been a little heart of north Fort Collins. That’s how I view it as a center, and that’s how I view the future.”

 

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Altered State

Altered State

Places set aside for nature and science in Colorado, including the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory and Rocky Mountain National Park, offer opportunities to key into climate changes. Some of which are occurring on a scale that the region and the planet haven’t experienced in thousands of years.

Models predict Colorado in 2085 will be seven to nine degrees (Celsius) hotter in summer and five to six degrees warmer in winter. Snowpack, our main source of water, is predicted to drop to half of the current average. Warming will have advantages around Colorado, causing longer growing seasons, wider stretches of some wildlife habitat, and possibly more precipitation in some regions. But signs of stress are already all over the state.

“Altered State”

Rocky Mountain Chronicle, February 14, 2008


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The Why of the Storm

The Why of the Storm

whyofstorm coverMany researchers have concluded that climate change is feeding extreme hurricanes, and amplified concerns could bring about the second coming for weather modification. A computer simulation from a Colorado State University professor could be the future of the field — and the federal government’s contingency plan for looming hurricane disasters.

The feature got a mention on a climate-change blog of the journal Nature, and also earned a third-place award for science reporting from the Colorado chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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The Why of the Storm

Could polluted hurricanes save the world?

By Joshua Zaffos

Rocky Mountain Chronicle, June 14, 2007

The year is 2025, and a Category-5 hurricane is barreling toward the Atlantic coast. If the storm continues on its present course, forecasters predict a 15-foot storm surge, flooding houses along the coast from Charleston, South Carolina to Washington, D.C. With just 72 hours until landfall, FEMA doesn’t call for an evacuation: Instead, a fleet of C-130 cargo planes takes off from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland and flies into the storm, loaded with a megaton payload of Saharan Desert dust.

Cue Wagner’s “Flight of the Valkyries” as the pilots open the payload doors over the hurricane. As if sprinkling pixie dust, the maneuver tames the weather system: Within a day, the rains diminish, the winds let up, and the storm is downgraded. Tragedy is averted.

“If you could reduce the intensity by 40 knots, you could save billions in reduced damages,” says Bill Cotton, a Colorado State University professor of atmospheric science, who collaborated with University of Illinois researchers to simulate the dirt-dumping scheme using
the Regional Atmospheric Modeling System, or RAMS, a program Cotton developed with CSU professor emeritus Roger Pielke Sr.

Cotton is seeking federal funds to pursue his theory. With strong financial backing, he estimates that field studies of his dust-busting hurricane treatment could start within 10 years.

Almost 60 years after government scientists first began discussing the idea of toying with the weather, the field of weather modification is again in vogue. Western states are considering cloud seeding — loading clouds with silver iodide — to amp up regional precipitation in order to keep shrinking reservoirs full. And Colorado U.S. Rep. Mark Udall plans to reintroduce legislation that would create a federal weather modification bureau.

Many researchers have concluded that climate change is feeding extreme hurricanes, and an amplified fear of more Katrinas could bring about the second coming for weather modification. Cotton’s simulation could be the future of the field — and the federal government’s contingency plan for looming hurricane disasters.

But, then, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should.

Slowing the Skater

Inside the CSU Atmospheric Sciences Building, Stephen Saleeby is at a loss to describe the workings of Cotton’s atmospheric modeling program. RAMS simulates the formations of clouds and storms based on a variety of conditions, such as regional wind speed, relative humidity and temperature. Saleeby, a research associate of Cotton’s, says programming isn’t quite as simple as plugging in a few numbers and then clicking the mouse to see how the simulated weather plays out.

The model consists of tens of thousands of lines of code. Saleeby can run some basic simulations on his desktop computer, but the larger analyses of hurricane pathways or cloud-seeding operations are handled through a cluster of up to 20 processors. One of Saleeby’s projects, studying the development of the Southwest monsoon season, takes the clustered computers three days to process.

RAMS allows Cotton, Saleeby and others to forecast how altering weather systems might affect snowfall, the duration of a drought, or a hurricane’s response to plane-loads of fine dust.

Such modeling has become highly sophisticated since the field of weather modification was born 60 years ago, when General Electric scientists discovered that silver iodide could increase precipitation in clouds. Researchers thought they could boost rain and snowfall and suppress hail and tornadoes.

The federal government began spending millions of dollars on a national weather modification program in 1959, partly motivated by the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s successful space launch of Sputnik two years earlier. The U.S.S.R. might have first dibson outer space, but the U.S. government wanted control of the atmosphere and the weather. From 1967 through 1981, the federal government never spent less than $9.9 million a year on weather modification. The bill topped out at $18.7 million in 1972.

Researchers conducted hurricane reduction experiments under Project Stormfury starting in 1962. Stormfury scientists seeded three hurricanes
in the 1960s but weren’t able to consistently affect the storms. A treatment of Hurricane Debbie in 1969 coincided with a 30 percent drop in the storm’s wind speed, but scientists couldn’t conclude that natural factors didn’t account for the results.

In the case of hurricanes, researchers assumed that dropping silver iodide onto specific storm clouds would cause “supercooled” water droplets to freeze. That process would create latent heat on the storm’s edge and, according to the theory, slow its speed.

“We use the analogy of the spinning skater,” says William Woodley, a federal researcher in Miami during the ’60s and ’70s, who flew into hurricanes to conduct experiments for Project Stormfury.

Whirling ’round and ’round, a figure skater pulls her arms into her body, turning faster and faster. That might help a performer score a few extra tenths of
a point from the judges, but out in the ocean, it’s the type of development that turns a tropical storm into
a hurricane — and then a major hurricane. Weather modification, as attempted through Stormfury and now modeled by Cotton, coaxes the hurricane to stick out her arms and slow down.

“The instrumentation wasn’t all that [in the 1960s]. The modeling was crude,” says Woodley, now a Littleton-based weather modification consultant. Another significant part of the problem was that Stormfury’s theoretical assumptions didn’t pan out.

Cloud-seeding experiments to augment precipitation for farming proved similarly disappointing. When adverse events, like floods or blizzards, coincided with modification projects, citizens blamed the government. People also faulted drought in one region on cloud seeding in an adjacent area. Federal research dollars began to taper in the late ’70s, and the cash flow stopped completely after 1985.

Today, weather modification is strictly a private and/or academic affair, but even without government cash, the improvements in computer modeling have advanced the field.

“What I can do today, I couldn’t even have dreamed of in graduate school,” Cotton says.

In Dust We Trust

Researchers are still trying to slow down the whirling skater, but the simulation, put forth by Cotton and his University of Illinois colleagues, uses a new technique, different from Stormfury’s.

In the simulation, tiny dust particles are dropped onto the storm. Very small raindrops form, which are less likely to collide in the clouds and more likely to evaporate before they fall, cooling the air. The upshot is a tamer storm: Wind speeds decrease 50 knots after the dust particles are introduced in the simulation. In the case of Katrina, a dust drop could have mellowed the storm at its fiercest point from Category-5 to Category-2 on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

“[This] is much more powerful than anything that was considered back in the Stormfury days,” Cotton says, sitting in his office, photos of heavy and ominous clouds hanging on the walls.

The theory has natural inspiration: African dust, which can impede the formation of tropical storms before they move across the Atlantic.

“We’ve observed that if a big dust storm comes along [in Africa], that tends to weaken a storm,” Cotton says.

A similar simulation by professor Daniel Rosenfeld and Woodley, also just published this year, produced the same results through the release of “submicron hygroscopic” — extremely minuscule and moisture-attracting — particles. Rosenfeld now has a provisional patent on the process, Woodley says.

Airlifting a desert dust storm sounds like a massive operation. The million-dollar question is, How much dirt are we talking about, and what’s that going to do to a coastal city?

Cotton can’t give a specific amount of dirt. That’s
one of the next steps after
he receives more funding.
But the delivery of the dust specks — each so small that 100 million of them could fit on a penny, Cotton estimates — would be a logistical issue and would require a convoy of cargo aircraft, like the C-130s.

Not to worry, Cotton says. A storm “would rain out the crud before it hits shore.”

In terms of clouding the
sky, the amount of dust is
roughly equivalent to the pollution levels of a major urban city, Cotton adds. It would be
as if a hurricane were to rev through the Atlantic and then pass through downtown St. Louis.

Pollution is the Solution

African dust pollution isn’t the same as the haze that hangs over a city, but the particles in the air act the
same. Cotton and his associates have titled their peer- reviewed article, soon to appear in The Journal of Weather Modification, “Should we consider polluting hurricanes to reduce their intensity?” The title is purposely provocative: According to most climate scientists, manmade pollution is already tinkering with the weather.

Auto exhaust and coal-fired power plant emissions
are already poking and prodding at the figure skater. (In another study, Cotton and graduate students observed that increased urban pollution from vehicles and coal-fired power plants have coincided with — and seemingly caused — decreased precipitation along the Front Range.) The collective impact of this pollution, contributing to melting glaciers and warming oceans, unfortunately, doesn’t deter the hurricanes. In fact, it makes them more persistent.

Scientists have found that warming sea-surface temperatures are causing more ferocious hurricanes, like Katrina and Rita, although that particular correlation isn’t quite as definitive as other impacts of human-caused climate change.

Recent studies by researchers at MIT, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and the National Center
for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder have concluded that warming oceans will cause fiercer hurricanes, though not necessarily more storms.

“We think global climate change will cause more intense hurricanes and, in particular, much heavier rainfall,” says Kevin Trenberth, head of NCAR’s Climate Analysis Section and a lead author on several reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that affirm global warming is occurring.

“The debate, if any, is the cause [of more intense hurricanes],” Trenberth says, although “the IPCC has very clearly stated that global warming is occurring and anyone who disagrees has their head in the sand.”

Still, there are other researchers who say historical hurricane records can’t be compared with modern monitoring. Also, factors like wind shear — the difference in wind speed at varying heights — and massive deviations of the ocean-atmosphere system, like El Niño, play key roles in hurricane development and intensity. Therefore, we shouldn’t presume that recent hurricane seasons are abnormal or unprecedented, or that climate change is the cause.

Cotton downplays the link between more intense hurricanes and climate change as “a lot of arm waving.”

It’s almost shocking to find that someone who has
dedicated his life to figuring out how to modify the weather, including methods that simulate urban pollution, is unconvinced that we’re unintentionally changing the climate.

Cotton says he is, indeed, a “climate skeptic,” and even calls the projections of the IPCC, put forth by 600 scientists, “back of the envelope numbers.” The skepticism lands him in the company of a more notorious
and outspoken skeptic, CSU’s hurricane- forecasting guru William Gray, whose office is around the corner from Cotton’s.

“I don’t think we can say with scientific confidence that current trends are due to human activity,” Cotton says. “I’m not buying into the warming trend being influenced by humans.”

After years of studying clouds and the atmosphere, and trying to change the weather, Cotton says he hasn’t seen enough evidence that rising global temperatures are anything more than “natural variability” of the planet.

“My involvement with weather modification, I take that skeptical view,” Cotton says. “I’m a modeler by trade, so that makes me very skeptical of models, including my own.”

But Cotton qualifies his uncertainty: On a scale from negative ten (being a staunch climate- change doubter) to ten (being a firm believer), Cotton rates himself as a negative one or a negative two, and Gray as a negative seven.

“I just think the jury’s still out, but I’m trying to find out the other side,” Cotton explains. “But I try to stay away from the personality issues.”

The irony here is that any renewed interest in weather modification, including the possibility of federal funding for the practice, is clearly tied to fears of how climate change might lead to longer droughts, bigger floods and wilder hurricanes. Colorado Congressman Mark Udall has twice introduced legislation
to establish a federal weather modification program that could draw millions of research dollars and put the government back in the cloud-seeding and hurricane-taming business. Udall plans to reintroduce the bill again
this congressional session (Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson of Texas has sponsored the same bill in the Senate during past sessions, as well).

The Ethical Storm

We can no longer claim that everyone is talking about the weather, but that no one is doing anything about it. We are doing something, whether we mean to or approve of it.

“Weather modification is a reality,” says Woodley, the former Stormfury scientist in Littleton. “Forget about anything I might do deliberately. We humans are changing the weather [with pollution]. My question is, If we’re doing this inadvertently, why can’t we do this — if we have our wits about it — advertently?”

That’s one of the questions Connie Uliasz has considered carefully over the past few years. Uliasz is completing her master’s thesis, “Ethical Issues in the Use of Weather Modification Technologies,” through CSU’s philosophy department.

“You’re probably talking to the world’s expert on the ethics of weather modification,” she says, half-jokingly.

Uliasz is properly schooled for that title. Her undergraduate background is
in philosophy, and she has studied with well-known CSU bioethicist Bernie Rollin and, to a lesser extent, Colorado State professor Holmes Rolston, “the Father
of Environmental Ethics.” She also has experience in atmospheric sciences, and at CSU, she has worked with Bill Cotton and helped manage professor Scott Denning’s “BioCycle” climate
change research group.

“I spent a long time
trying to understand the
science, years of that,
before I could even start
with the ethics,” Uliasz
 says. Few researchers ever attempt a cross over. “They” — scientists — “don’t even think about ethics,” she charges.

Weather modification is at an ethical disadvantage on several counts, Uliasz says: “There’s some good evidence it actually works, but it’s difficult to prove, and you don’t know what you’re going to get [in terms of experiment results]. And you’re not going to solve questions in the long run.”

Weather modification, Uliasz continues, can “sidetrack people from really making the hard decisions. It’s almost a red herring of a technological fix. And Americans, especially, love their technological fixes.”

Americans also have a Category-5 fear
of hurricanes in the haunting aftermath of Katrina. Our broken-levee blues may be out of proportion compared to our concerns over other risks, like coastal flooding.

A March 2007 Gallup survey shows 49 percent of Americans fear more intense hurricanes from global warming, and we’re more worried about another climate- change-fueled hurricane than drought, flood, an increased prevalence of disease, or a loss of coastal areas.

This year’s hurricane season started before its usual June 1 date, when Subtropical Storm Andrea formed in May. Hurricane forecasters, like CSU’s Gray,
 are projecting that this year could turn
out a lot like 2005, and if another Katrina, or even an Andrew or a Hugo, rocks the Atlantic coast, Congress will only be more inclined to consider a quick fix. But instead of slowing down the skater, maybe we should concentrate on encouraging her not to spin faster.

“It seems like it could be better to spend [federal] money when hurricanes come, instead of trying to disperse them,” Uliasz says, the ethical coin flipping inside her head. “But, then, if Katrina were a Category-2 instead of a 5, we’d still have New Orleans. I don’t know how many more really awful hurricanes we could have before we say, ‘Let’s try anything.’”

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Hatch-22

Hatch-22

Gaggle from Lowry, Denver, Colorado (photo by cooper gary"/ https://www.flickr.com/people/gtcooper25/)   GT Cooper Photography
Gaggle from Lowry, Denver, Colorado (photo by cooper gary”/ https://www.flickr.com/people/gtcooper25/)

Northern Colorado scientists have developed birth control for geese, but hunters have another idea for thinning the flocks

Rocky Mountain Chronicle, May 10, 2007

by Joshua Zaffos

Jim Gammonley walks through goose turds at Warren Park in south Fort Collins, approaching an unflappable gaggle of birds that includes a brood of fuzzy goslings. The bird-research program manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife tags geese in Warren Park and other sites annually to track their whereabouts.

The city parks and public and private golf courses of the northern Front Range are prime real estate for Canada geese. For centuries, the geese migrated up and down the continent, summering in the Great North and retreating south to the warm weather for the winter. Resident populations were generally uncommon.

But those patterns began to change 
in the early 20th century. Overzealous, unregulated hunters and habitat destruction nearly exterminated the geese. Wildlife biologists responded by reintroducing captive birds to maintain their stocks. The scientists became so good at the practice that states without resident goose populations soon had them.

Colorado began releasing Canada geese in 1957 at College Lake, which butts against the foothills outside Fort Collins. The plaque at the lake commemorates the practice and honors G.I. “Father Goose” Crawford, the Division of Wildlife official credited with restoring Canada geese to Northern Colorado.

This is where Colorado’s – and, to some extent, the country’s – goose problem started. Millions of geese sit around, root through and poop all over America’s golf courses, city parks, town squares and any other suburban refuge of lawn and water. College Lake isn’t even preferred territory anymore.

“By the 1970s, we had been successful enough with our efforts that we began gathering up our goslings for other states,” Gammonley says. But as other states established their own resident goose populations, Colorado ran out of places to export the birds and their annual hatchlings, many of which remained in the mild and maintained environs of suburbia.

On the other side of the lake, at
the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center (NWRC), scientists may have developed a solution to thin out the masses of resident geese that don’t know, or want, to migrate each year.

The federal researchers
of the NWRC, along with a private entrepreneur from California, have developed birth control for geese. OvoControl-G prevents goose eggs from hatching. It looks kind of like Corn Pops.

“OvoControl is the first wildlife contraceptive ever, so there’s no roadmap out there,” says Erick Wolf of Innolytics, Inc., which partnered with the NWRC to research and develop the bait/ birth control.

The contraceptive could change the way wildlife managers control pesky suburban bird populations, like flocks of pigeons and geese. Its acceptance could also lead to similar control for herds of deer and other animals that are running amok in comfy, suburban and exurban spaces,once their natural habitat. But some hunters and outfitters fear birdie birth control will lead to less birds to shoot, and state wildlife agencies, dependent on hunting license revenues, will have to weigh in on the matter, and possibly figure out how to control that other form of not-so-wild
life: humans.

Planned parenthood

The Front Range’s human population began exploding around the same
time as the goose population. New neighborhoods — and parks, open spaces and golf courses — make cozy goose habitat. Children and seniors feed birds. Today, about 15,000 Canada geese reside year-round along the Front Range between Fort Collins and Pueblo.

Nationally, the numbers are even more staggering: Five million geese call the U.S. home, but only 2 million migrate across the continent.

Another astounding number: A goose excretes 1.5 pounds of feces a day, increasing human health risks of E. coli and Listeria.

Colorado has long since stopped reintroducing Canada geese. As in most states, goose management is now a combination of hunting and harassment, with the latter being preferred in and around cities for safety and humanitarian reasons.

During the spring breeding season, biologists will addle, or shake, eggs to detach the yolk from the membrane wall and keep them from hatching. Some wildlife managers will also puncture shells. In Colorado, the weapon of choice is a corn- oil spray that suffocates the shell pores
and, again, prevents hatching. (Breaking or crushing eggs isn’t all that practical because geese will simply lay a new batch.) But none of these measures really do anything to alter goose behavior.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regulates all management activities because Canada geese are classified as migratory birds, regardless of whether a population actually flies south for the winter. The Colorado Division of Wildlife holds a special permit from the federal agency to oil eggs. The state then registers and trains homeowners associations, golf course superintendents and parks staff.

Since the state received its permit in 2001, 44 separate entities, mostly around metro Denver, have registered to “treat” eggs or destroy nests. Last year, three permittees signed up in Larimer County and, according to Division of Wildlife stats, destroyed 27 nests and 77 eggs. Across Colorado, trained managers destroyed 442 nests and 2,555 eggs.

Dozens of other hazing measures do not require a permit. They recall a string of plot devices from Road Runner cartoons and are seemingly as successful.

“We have a guy that goes out every morning and chases away the geese
that have flown in overnight,” says Scott Robbins, superintendent for Ptarmigan Golf Course, located between Fort Collins and Windsor off Highway 392. The course has received a state permit to oil eggs, but the greens crew uses hazing tactics more frequently.

Robbins bought a remote-control boat to chase off geese on the course’s lake. His staff uses flash tape that reflects into the sky to discourage birds from landing, as well as scare balloons, inflated balls with bull’s eyes that are supposed to look like a predator’s steely pupils. “It kind of works on the migratory geese, but the resident ones, they’ve seen everything,” Robbins says. “The geese will not even generally move for a golf cart.”

At Fort Collins’ city 
golf courses, manager 
Jerry P. Brown has tried
 scaring off resident birds
 using everything from 
inflatable alligators to
 goose carcasses. Dogs, 
which will chase geese
 but won’t kill them, are
 his “best weapon of 
harassment,” and the city courses also have state permits to oil eggs. (Depending on a city’s laws, some parks or golf courses fire blank cracker shells to frighten the geese into moving elsewhere.)

“We do it simply because geese are
a big nuisance to our customers and to us,” Brown says, “and they’re a nuisance because of the pooping. A golf course is a smorgasbord to a goose.”

The kibble contraceptive


Neither Robbins nor Brown keep track 
of how much time and labor are spent fighting back the geese that stick around all year, but both say that if the gaggles grow, birth control is worth consideration.

“You’re basically swapping technology for labor,” says Wolf, of his product’s benefits.

Unlike Bill Murray’s gopher-hating character in Caddyshack, all a golf-course superintendent would need to take care of his winged annoyances
is a pan of OvoControl,
served every morning
over the two-month
breeding season.

“After about two
days, the geese are
standing in the parking
space,” waiting for
the bait, Wolf says. “It
looks like dog-food
kibbles and it tastes
like bread.” He speaks
from firsthand experience, having sampled the semi-soft morsels himself during the testing phases.

OvoControl doesn’t prevent birds from laying eggs, but it greatly reduces egg hatchability by breaking down the wall between the membrane and the yolk. The active ingredient is nicarbazin, a compound developed by Merck & Co. about 50 years ago to stave off a parasite disease in chickens.

“This is one of the compounds that provided the poultry industry the means to grow chicken at a large scale,” Wolf says.

Roughly a decade ago, Wolf was working for a company that was manufacturing for Merck when he realized nicarbazin prevented some chicken eggs from hatching. His boss saw the realization as an opportunity, and Wolf began studying how the compound could be used to produce the same result with resident geese. Soon his quest led him to contact the staff at the National Wildlife Research Center in Fort Collins.

Bait and glitch

The NWRC serves as the research arm for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Wildlife Services branch (formerly known as Animal Damage Control).

For many decades, the department dealt with varmints and problem animals by killing them as efficiently as possible. But as environmental values have changed, so has the mindset of wildlife managers. Today, NWRC scientists spend lots of time working on humane control solutions for prairie dogs, wolves and coyotes, as well as aggressive strategies for knocking back exotic species, like feral pigs, Gambian rats, nutria and brown tree snakes, which prey upon or displace native animals.

The center was experimenting
with its own contraceptive when Wolf approached them, says NWRC Product Development Research Manager Kathleen Fagerstone.

As many as 15 NWRC biologists, chemists and other researchers teamed with Wolf starting in 1998. A first round of tests on Japanese quail showed the contraceptive was working.

In 2000, Congress allocated $2 million over four years for the NWRC to continue its experiments. NWRC scientists knew how nicarbazin worked, so the major challenge was tinkering for the proper dosage, then making the bait palatable.

“We went through several years of just trying to get the geese to eat it,” Fagerstone says.

The center kept geese in feeding pens on its campus, and the scientists finally mixed a wheat-based recipe that the birds wanted to gobble. Next, they had to figure out if the dosage was right, since geese won’t lay eggs in captivity.

After years of research, OvoControl was ready for a battery of tests by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The bureau studied the bait’s toxicity, how it breaks down in the environment and its potential consequences on other birds and wildlife, before approving it
in late 2005. (OvoControl could affect other birds’ hatchability, although songbirds don’t breed at the same time as geese.)

“This is the first contraceptive that EPA has registered — for anything,” Fagerstone says. “It has been a learning experience for researchers and regulators, and now it will be one for the managers.”

Hunters fire back

The Humane Society and PETA have praised the animal-friendly breakthrough of OvoControl. The product also has
a thumbs-up from the American Bird Conservancy, a national nonprofit group that advocates to protect threatened
and endangered bird species. Michael Fry, the group’s pesticides and birds director, says he had some initial concerns
over potential birth deformities from OvoControl to those goslings that do hatch, but he is satisfied with the testing.

Despite the endorsements, only eleven sites in three states — Oregon, Rhode Island and California — are trailblazing into the realm of birth control for geese. They include a U.S. Navy military installation, several golf courses, and private homeowners associations and municipal lands.

Because OvoControl is the first product of its kind, the federal government is overseeing its use in the same way
as lethal measures. States are patching together rules to allow — or reject — its application.

City parks districts and a condo development in Illinois also approached Wolf to set up treatment sites, but he says those got tossed after the state Department of Natural Resources ruled that use of OvoControl, as a chemical, is illegal. The contraceptive was classified with poisons and explosives. The motivation wasn’t scientific, Wolf claims, but the result of pressure from hunting groups, which contribute a big chunk to the Department of Natural Resources’ budget through the purchase of hunting licenses.

“The way they view this thing is, if you contracept a goose, that’s one less goose to kill,” Wolf says. “Our take is that resident geese are rarely shot.”

Wolf says he’s encountered resistance from fish and game agencies and hunters in other states, too. Since no one has formally applied to use OvoControl in Colorado, Wolf isn’t sure how the state and local hunters will respond. Boulder County Parks and LongmontParks both made initial inquiries about using the contraceptive, but Wolf says they started looking too late in the season to receive treatments. Brown, the Fort Collins Manager of Golf, says he would “absolutely” try out OvoControl, but isn’t familiar with the product.

“There’s no reason for us not to permit it,” says Gammonley of the state’s wildlife division. “If we’re going to start using OvoControl, in some ways, it’s probably less controversial.”

The birth control is undoubtedly less controversial to city- park birdwatchers and animal-rights types, who are against destroying eggs and nests and harassing geese. But the hunting community’s reaction isn’t clear, and bird hunters in Colorado have clout with the Division of Wildlife.

Based on division estimates, Colorado has sold an annual average of 15,843 licenses to goose hunters since 1999. Goose hunters spend about $1 million a year in license fees that go directly to the state Division of Wildlife. That doesn’t include guide services, gun and ammo purchases, hotels, food and orange vests.

“Goose hunting is really good in Colorado,” Gammonley says. “This is
an important resource for the state. And, believe it or not, a good number of these [resident] geese do wander to ag fields and get shot.”

Through his banding efforts along
the Front Range, Gammonley can track when a hunter kills a resident goose on the Eastern Plains. Along the northern Front Range, of every five Canada geese chomping and honking and pooping along a Loveland golf course or a Fort Collins bike trail, one is eventually pumped full of buckshot.

Most of those birds are shot during a short, early hunting season, which usually lasts one to two weeks in October.

Jim Roth, co-owner of Greeley-
based Waterfowl Haven Outfitters, isn’t familiar with OvoControl, but he worries that it could hurt his business, which serves about 900 hunters a year — many from out of state — at $200 a pop.

“I don’t think you have any idea
of what would happen” to population numbers, he says. “I’d be against it. All they have to do is lengthen the season if they wanted to get [kill] more birds.”

Tad Stout is a goose-hunting guide in Severance, and he calls the early season “an integral part of our business.” But he isn’t worried about OvoControl ruining his livelihood.

“It’s not a concern at all,” says Stout, who graduated from Colorado State University with a fisheries and biology degree and first started guiding with his father, known as “Mister Goose” (notto be confused with “Father Goose” Crawford at College Lake).

“My skepticism is [over] the effectiveness,” Stout adds. “It would take a pretty aggressive, pretty extensive program to put a dent in Canada geese, and we’ve created pretty good habitat for them.”

Habitat for humanity

Wolf is now waiting for EPA registration of a new form of OvoControl aimed at pigeons. With no hunting constituency for the urban pests, he expects less opposition and hopes that acceptance of pigeon contraceptives could wear down resistance to the goose control.

In the meantime, Northern Coloradans continue to create “pretty good habitat” for resident geese. With thousands
of new homes to be constructed and dozens of new golf courses and malls
to follow, developers typically won’t
pay much attention to how their water features or landscaping might attract birds, Gammonley says. But they want a quick fix when goose poop is littering the fairway on the fourteenth hole.

Gammonley and other wildlife managers know there is no silver bullet or bait or radio-controlled boat that will override or eliminate the habits of resident geese. The same axiom holds for educating people and informing our land use as we convert farms, wetlands and rural stopovers for migratory
geese into subdivisions, office parks and suburban sanctuaries for resident geese. Which ever-growing group of residents will be easier to train to take the bait?

“That’s kind of the problem,” Gammonley says. “People and geese like the same things.”

 

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