Travel

How the Beer Industry Sustains Pacific Northwest Farmlands

Publication: BigLife Magazine   Date: December 1, 2015   View Article

The yellow blinking light where Idaho state highways 20 and 75 intersect signals “almost there” to travelers bound for Sun Valley. It hangs in the southwest corner of a triangle-shaped swath of farmland that affords big-sky views of high-desert foothills that bleed into the Northern Rockies. A nearby mileage sign reads Bellevue 9, Hailey 12, Sun Valley 26. This August, I pulled off at a rest area next to the light. The air was still and warm. The sky was dulled by smoke from forest fires burning throughout the Pacific Northwest. I was road tripping to learn how the brewing industry sustains farmlands that surround our mountain playgrounds and wanted to soak in the view of them from here. My phone buzzed. Grumpy’s for a beer? Sure, I replied. I’m at the blinking light. Almost there.

At the northern tip of the triangle, near Bellevue, the Big Wood River courses over porous soils. Much of its water seeps underground and flows southeast until impermeable sediments and rock force it to emerge in a series of springs. Some of the springs refill the Big Wood; others feed Silver Creek, a world-renowned trout stream. Dayna Gross, the Idaho conservation manager for The Nature Conservancy, explains this hydrology while pointing out landmarks on a tattered GIS reference map on a wall in the cluttered office of the Silver Creek Preserve. The spring water is clean and nutrient-rich. Wetlands and wildlife abound. “That is why we have these epic hatches,” Gross says with a hint of in-the-know cool. “People come from all over the world to fish here.” Rough calculations by The Nature Conservancy suggest that visitors to the 851-acre preserve contribute more than $6 million to the local economy each summer and fall.

“Barley,” Bill Coors is famous for saying, “is to beer as grapes are to wine.” Barley supplied to brewers of beers such as Coors, Miller High Life, and Budweiser grows on farms that surround the Silver Creek Preserve and contribute around $20 million to the local economy. The relationship between the farmers and environmentalists is uneasy. Sediments wash and blow off the farms and cloud the creek’s waters. Wetlands are scarce. The valley’s aquifer is sinking from decades of over pumping and, as a result, the springs trickle with less vigor and creek waters are warming. MillerCoors contacted The Nature Conservancy in 2009 in search of ways to help growers of its barley be better neighbors. Gross suggested a fencing and wetland restoration project on a farm along Stalker Creek, one of the feeder springs. The brewer bit. “It was a real success,” John Stevenson, who has grown malting barley for 43 years at his Hillside Ranch, says while standing in a tractor shed to avoid the sun.

More Fuel-Efficient Jets Could Lead to Passenger Nirvana

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 4, 2015   View Article

Want more legroom, more direct flights, and less time stuck in holding patterns? It could be coming to airline passengers, but at a price: higher fares.

Regulators are moving along with targets intended to push commercial airlines to slash their emissions of carbon dioxide not by stuffing more of us onto the existing fleet, but by targeting the underlying issue of aircraft fuel efficiency. That will mean new, fuel-efficient airplanes, an upgrade that could come with creature comforts such as more legroom and state-of-the-art inflight entertainment.

But integrating new airplanes into existing fleets and upgrading technology will cost money, which may lead to higher fares, noted Vera Pardee, a San Francisco-based attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of several environmental groups that are pushing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate airline greenhouse gas emissions.

Arctic Ship Traffic and Oil Spill Worries Rise as Ice Recedes

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 25, 2014   View Article

Ships packed with frozen mackerel and herring will sail in convoy behind a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker from Norway to Asia this summer along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean — a trial run as companies rush to capitalize on the world’s hunger for fish and to extract minerals from the top of the world.

Dozens of ships now transit the Arctic each year amid decreasing summer ice — in 2013,71 vessels plied the Northern Sea Route, including the first container ship. In another first, a bulk carrier transited coal through the famed Northwest Passage on a voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Finland. And that traffic is only likelier to get busier.

Hundreds more ships “go up to the Arctic and perform some activity and then they come out,” Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explained to NBC News. Most of these ships transport equipment to mines and other industrial sites and leave with commodities such as oil, gas, copper, nickel, and iron ore.

60 years after first Everest ascent, anyone can climb (online)

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 29, 2013   View Article

Sixty years ago, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay struggled to make the first ascent of Mt. Everest — but today, anyone with an Internet connection can easily trek to basecamp, take a virtual flight over the region’s glaciers, and see how the mountain has changed over the years.

“What we’ve heard from the scientists that study these specific glaciers is that the melt rate is increasing dramatically,” David Breashears, a famed mountaineer and filmmaker, told NBC News.

“One then says, well if we continue to put more carbon into the air … what will the glaciers look like and what will the consequences be?”

Skip a stone on a mountain lake from your desk

Publication: NBC News   Date: July 11, 2012   View Article

Stuck in a cubicle but wish you were in the mountains skipping stones? So do I. And now we can, sort of, thanks to a promotional robot sitting on the side of a lake in Sun Valley, Idaho, waiting for you to play with it.

To do so, surf over to www.stoneskippingrobot.com and tell Skippy how hard and what angle to fling the stone. Skippy will do the rest. Just sit back and watch your stone skip across an idyllic mountain lake.

Boeing concept jet could be Prius of the skies

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: May 2, 2012   View Article

In 2050, flying commercial may still mean crammed overhead bins and crummy food, but the engine could be powered by liquefied natural gas or electricity, according to an ongoing study on the future of flight.

Such planes might also be constructed with lighter materials, sport high-span truss-based wings, and be routed with improved air-traffic control systems, according to Marty Bradley, a technical fellow with Boeing Research and Technology who is the leading the NASA-funded study.

100-year-old whisky highlights art of blending

Publication: msnbc.com   Date: January 9, 2012   View Article

Antarctica-bound explorers would be wise to bring a case or two of Scotch whisky to endure chilly nights. Ernest Shackleton was wise.

In fact, the Scotch he packed for the Nimrod’s 1907 attempt to reach the South Pole was exceptional, according to distillers who sampled and re-created the drink.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach