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From Montrose Mirror, p. 32-33, July 11, 2017


FAMOUS FENS … For starters, most folks have no idea what a fen is. I didn’t 20 years ago, when the Telluride ski area wanted to expand into the Prospect Basin bowl – an area within their permitted boundaries, but a wild cross-country ski region undeveloped at the time. Turns out the landslide topography of the local ski slopes lends itself to the formation of peatlands. These wetlands sequester carbon, are archival records of past climate, vegetation, etc., are climate change canaries in their own right, and have a revered if relatively unstudied place in forest hydrology. When their primary source of wet is mineralized groundwater, we call them fens. Swamps and bogs are other kinds of peatlands, suited to different ecological niches … To protect the ecology and yet satisfy a citizen majority that supported the economic thinking behind the expansion, I was able as a county commissioner to negotiate a deal with Telluride Ski & Golf Co. to hire Colorado State University’s fen expert, Dr. David Cooper, for three years in order to oversee the expansion and protect the fens. He did that, and he began a longitudinal study to better understand some of the measurable biological aspects of the fens. After the ski area’s contract ran out, San Miguel County and the towns of Telluride and the Mountain Village paid for a Prospect Basin Fen Advisory Board to help Dr. Cooper continue getting grant funding for his studies. For a while, the Mountain Studies Institute out of Durango took over that role. Lately, Dr. Cooper has been on his own … So, the Telluride Institute has taken on a Fen Advisory project role in helping publicize the work Dr. Cooper did and is doing, and to continue to support his unique and valuable ecological research … Telski was perhaps motivated to allow Dr. Cooper as consultant and to fund his work — at the county’s insistence — because it had made a big mess of its Mountain Village golf course construction, destroying a number of wetlands without obtaining the necessary federal permits. They paid a big fine. And they worked with local ecologist Chris Hazen to restore the damaged wetlands … What’s exciting, as Dr. Cooper’s grad students Jeremy Sueltenfuss and Andrea Borkenhagen explained at an Ah Haa School presentation two weeks ago, is that the golf course restoration not only appears to have been successful (the duo was in town to take some measurements to confirm this) but it is being used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a national model of wetlands restoration and of the restorative process itself. Both of them called it a kind of Cinderella story … July 20th at 7 p.m. at the Wilkinson Public Library in Telluride.

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