Happy Monday, Boulder. I hope you’re well.

For today, I’m covering mushrooms and how they might aid our fight against Boulder’s overgrown forests and depleted farmland. Boulder Mushroom was awarded $100,000 from Boulder County’s Innovation Grant to see if mycelium, a mushroom’s root system, could deal with wood waste created by forest thinning projects. The fungi could accelerate the decomposition process, turning wood chips into soil that could be spread over farmland.

Also, Boulder County Commissioners voiced their support for the EPA exploring regulations on leaded aviation gasoline. Though cars can no longer have lead in their gas, planes still often do — especially small ones like those landing at Boulder County airports.

Have a good one. I’ll see you Wednesday.

— Tim, reporter

What to know today

  • Cold with snow: Much of this week will reside in the 20s. Those low temps will keep the snow falling today on the ground for some time.
  • A 97-year-old woman froze to death after being accidentally locked out of her assisted living facility: The death of Mary Jo Staub happened in February 2022 at Lavender Farms in Louisville, but her family filed a wrongful death complaint in Boulder District Court last week, CPR reported. The complaint names parent company Boulder Senior Living, the facility’s employees, and CEO Michael Schonbrun as defendants.
    • “Assisted living facilities are supposed to provide protective oversight for our elderly loved ones,” Elizabeth Hart, a lawyer with Denver-based firm Hailey Hart PLLC, which is representing Staub’s family, told CPR. “The family wants to ensure this doesn’t happen to any other member of this vulnerable population.”
  • County commissioners voice support for leaded gas regulation: The Environmental Protection Agency recently put out a finding that leaded aviation gas endangers public health. With leaded gas already phased out of cars and other vehicles, the leaded plane gas is a final holdout. Releasing this finding is the first step in potentially phasing out the gas.
    • Santa Clara County in California submitted a response to the EPA, drafted by Stanford Law School’s Environmental Law Clinic. On Jan. 17, Boulder County Commissioners voted to support the sentiment of Santa Clara and other local governments across the country in calling for regulation on the gasoline.
    • “Lead air pollution endangers public health and welfare,” said Commissioner Ashley Stolzmann. “We regularly hear from residents about air pollution from aviation and its dangerous impact on our community and specifically children’s health. Leaded aviation gas is a major source of air pollution in Boulder County and in communities across the United States.”
    • Leaded gas is used mostly in small, piston-engine aircraft that carry two to 10 people. These make up many of the planes landing and taking off from airports in and around Boulder County, including Boulder Municipal Airport. Having these planes burning lead-imbued gasoline increases the levels of lead in the air around the airports and wherever those planes fly.
  • More slash burning: The slash burning that was possible last week may continue into this one. Mud Lake and Caribou Ranch may be closed. As I previously explained, forests are thinned to prevent wildfires from gaining uncontrollable intensity. In doing this, slash piles are sometimes formed as a place to concentrate the fuel on the landscape. Collected into piles, the wood generated by thinning projects is left until conditions allow for its safe incineration. This week could provide such conditions. With snow on the ground and more moisture expected, it’s unlikely flames from the piles would start a fire the thinning projects aimed to mitigate.
  • Leave your home for future generations: Some Boulderites are choosing to leave their homes as staples of affordability in the community. Called the Housing Legacy Program, the practice was started by Janice Zelazo, who purchased her Boulder home in 1979. After watching home prices increase exponentially, Zelazo decided to make her home a holdout for future Boulderites who can’t afford a home at market value.
    • “I believe that we all have a responsibility to each other,” Zelazo said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken that sense of responsibility more seriously.”
    • In 2017, the program was formed, and a couple of other residents have since contributed their homes. With the ability to dictate the terms of their donation in their will, potential donors help future lower- and middle-income home buyers, and aid Boulder “achieve economic diversity across the city.”
    • Learn more about the Housing Legacy program on the city’s website.
  • Boulder moves to low Covid transmission level: Though Covid is still be transmitted in Boulder County, the local rates have fallen into the low category as defined by the CDC, according to Boulder County Public Health. This category means there are fewer than 200 new cases per 100,000, and fewer than 10 new hospitalizations from the virus, over the past seven days. As of Jan. 20, 10 people were hospitalized countywide with the virus.
    • “While I think it’s appropriate to take a moment to celebrate this milestone, we are closely monitoring the emergence of a new omicron subvariant XBB.1.5,” said Carol Helwig, communicable disease program manager for Boulder County Public Health. “As we learn new information about this subvariant, which makes up over 40 percent of new cases in the U.S., we want to encourage everyone to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccinations and boosters — especially those at high risk for severe disease.” 
  • Youths Corp applications open soon: Get your letter of recommendation ready now. Applications for Boulder County Youth Corps positions open on Feb. 13, and will require a letter of rec along with the application and an interview. The positions will require 30 hours a week of manual labor paid at about $13 an hour. That’s not including the lessons learned in “environmental and civic stewardship.”

Go deeper

Mushrooms to be deployed as a weapon against wildfires in Boulder

By Tim Drugan

January 23, 2023

If Boulder Mushroom achieves what it’s setting out to, the foothills around Boulder could soon sport a whole lot more mushrooms. Fungi could become a major tool for making Boulder’s forests less prone to wildfires by turning branches, logs and wood chips into healthy soil — instead of fuel for future fire they would be otherwise.

Zach Hedstrom is the founder and owner of Boulder Mushroom, a local mycology center that’s branching out to help Boulder combat climate change. Partnering with the Boulder Watershed Collective and Grama Grass and Livestock, Boulder Mushroom recently received a $100,000 grant from Boulder County. The grant — half paid for by the City of Boulder’s Department of Climate Initiatives — comes from the county’s Climate Innovation Fund. Established in 2022, the fund aims to provide seed money for companies trying to tackle climate change and its effects here in Boulder.

A pilot project has shown promise that mushrooms can turn wood chips into compost. Hedstrom applied for the grant with his partners to see if he could scale up what worked in a lab. What if, he asked, we could use fungus to reduce the intensity of future wildfires across our forests? What if we could use fungus to improve soil health on our agricultural land?

“We’re trying to understand if we can inoculate this waste wood with native fungi and turn it into soil.”

Continue reading…

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BRL picks

🧗‍♀️ The Climb at the Boulder Theater: This Thursday night, one of the greatest rock climbers ever will be answering questions at the Boulder staple. Chris Sharma along with Meagan Martin will open themselves to inquiry after a showing of the season finale of THE CLIMB, “a thrilling new rock climbing competition series.” Tickets start at $6.

🥁 Jam night: On Tuesday, as it is every Tuesday, is jam night at The Coffee Stand on Arapahoe and Broadway. Sign up is at 6 p.m. and jam bands are formed at 6:15. Bring your own instruments to “come share food, laughs and tunes.”

🧘 Power of the mind: On Thursday, Khentrul Lodrö T’hayé Rinpoche will be at the Boulder Bookstore about his new book, “The Power of Mind: A Tibetan Monk’s Guide to Finding Freedom in Every Challenge.” “Peace and happiness can be attained, but not by searching for something in the outside world. They start within us then extend out to the entire globe.” Tickets are $5.

For more ideas on what to do this week, check out BRL’s Local Events page.


Tim Drugan

Tim Drugan is the climate and environment reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering wildfires, water and other climate-related issues for Boulder with a focus on explanatory and solutions journalism. He also is the lead writer of BRL Today, our morning newsletter. Tim grew up in New Hampshire and graduated from UNH with a degree in English/Journalism. Email: tim@boulderreportinglab.org.