Christo's Bighorn Battle

May 2011

Did the death knell unofficially toll on Christo's Over the River project when the Colorado Wildlife Commission unanimously moved to oppose it last week? While we wait to find out, the New York Times takes a closer look at the commission's decision regarding the proposed artistic installation, which would sheath a portion of the Arkansas River that flows through Salida.

Wildlife officials are focused mainly on the potential impact on bighorn sheep, worried the project may displace or even injure them. But Christo's advocates, who in addition to Governor John Hickenlooper include some environmental groups and Salida's local newspaper editor, hone a broader lens on the situation: Beyond pointing out the official state animal "is hardly an endangered species," some note hunters are allowed to take down bighorns in the same canyon where the project would be created.

Christo's detractors aren't just distressed about the sheep, however. Birds and bats are also contributing to their unease, as they fear the winged creatures could get caught in the installation's wires. But bats are facing a much more serious problem, as the deadly white-nose syndrome spreads west from the southern and eastern parts of the country (Associated Press). Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has sounded alarms on the illness, which is not harmful to humans but has killed more than one million bats. Although the disease hasn't been found in Colorado, the feds have closed caves located on the land they oversee here in hopes of preventing the proliferation of the fungus that causes the syndrome.