Sagebrush covers massive tracts of land in the west and Canada. According to the Intermountain West Joint Venture, it used to cover 247 million acres in the US, though now it is about half that.
This keystone species supports over 350 species, including the adorable pygmy rabbit and charismatic greater sage-grouse. Several bird and mammal species are almost entirely dependent on sagebrush for survival: Gunnison sage-grouse, sage sparrow, Brewer’s sparrow, sage thrasher, pygmy rabbit, and sagebrush vole. (CPW) Colorado Parks and Wildlife
The plant is alive year-round which is important for the sage-grouse as it depends on it for 100% of its winter diet. It also functions as a nurse plant for other plant species, including important livestock forage plants.
Water scarcity is a risk many people and organizations take too lightly, particularly in the West, where we are experiencing megadrought with little end in sight.
A group of climate scientists from UCLA, NASA and Columbia University as recently as 2018 and 2019 studied, among other statistical data, tree rings to help determine soil moisture. They found soil moisture deficits have doubled in the last 22 years.
That does not bode well for many reasons. Landscapes are less drought resilient and more prone to scarring wildfires. The condition perpetuates itself as water flows off, carrying more sediment and leaving parched earth behind.
We all use water as a valuable resource. So do businesses and corporations. I thought I would take a look into the water risks of the corporate world.
As you Sow (https://www.asyousow.org) is a non-profit based in California that does a lot of work on environmental, health and climate change issues. Shareholder advocacy is one tool they utilize and have been reasonably successful.
Our Blue River
Healthy riparian zones serve to capture carbon and thus contribute to fighting global climate change. They are the areas bordering rivers and other bodies of surface water. They provide many environmental and recreational benefits to streams, groundwater, and downstream land areas. Groundwater is usually found at shallower depths in riparian zones than in the surrounding landscape. These areas are visually defined by a greenbelt with a characteristic suite of plants that are adapted to and depend on the shallow water table.
Camp Hale and the Continental Divide
Photo by: Mason Cummings, The Wilderness Society
The Colorado Outdoor Recreation and Economy Act (CORE) is a bill that was introduced by Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and US Congressman Joe Neguse. It would ultimately protect up to 400,000 acres of public land.
The bill expands wilderness designations for more than 31,000 acres of wilderness, including some of the state’s most recognizable mountain scenes encompassing two fourteeners: Mount Sneffels and Wilson Peak in the San Juan Mountain Range in Southwest Colorado. I went on a hut trip in the area last winter and it was truly magnificent. Check out the San Juan Hut system for an awesome adventure.
Closer to home is the Continental Divide and Camp Hale piece of this legislation. Holy Cross, Ptarmigan and Eagles Nest Wilderness would tack on 20,000 acres collectively. In addition, Camp Hale where the 10th Mountain Division trained during World War Two would be the first designated historic national landscape.
President Biden’s Executive Order to protect 30% of our land and water by 2030 has been on the table for months. However, many details including funding and land conservation classifications are unclear. Twenty-six percent of our water is currently protected, though only about 12% of our land is officially conserved by federal estimates.
"To achieve the America the Beautiful framework, we are doing it one lands package at a time," Colorado Congressman Joe Neguse said last month at an event organized by the Conservation Lands Foundation. He pointed to H.R. 803, the "Protecting America’s Wilderness and Public Lands Act," approved on a largely party-line vote (E&E News PM, Feb. 26). That package would establish nearly 1.5 million acres of new wilderness areas and incorporate more than 1,000 river miles into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in Arizona, California, Colorado and Washington state.
The future holds promise for our environment, though significant challenges remain. The UN says up to $3.8 trillion is needed annually until 2050 to prevent an irreversible devastating rise in global warming.
Encouragingly, climate investment grew in 2018 to $546 billion according to the Climate Policy Initiative (CPI). Research from the non-profit Climate Disclosure Project (CDP) finds that emissions attributed to banks’ investing and lending activities are 700 times larger than emissions from banks themselves.
It is now more important than ever that we each seek out the greenest financial institutions. Ask about their sustainability initiatives and if they intend to increase their green lending portfolio. Your mutual fund probably holds stock in several banks, so ask your financial advisor what they are doing to help combat global warming.
“The G20 members... are now spending 50 per cent more on sectors linked to fossil fuel production and consumption, than on low-carbon energy.” That's according to the December 2020 Climate Action team at the UN. They explored G20 rescue packages in the depths of the Covid pandemic. The team concluded it was the time to act boldly, but in a constructive way that would heal the planet productively.
I'm encouraged, more than 124 countries have committed to become climate neutral by 2050. The European Union, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan and the Republic of Korea are included. I expect the EU will reduce its emissions to at least 55 percent below1990 levels by 2030.
The costs are immense and are projected to increase as wildfires become more frequent and more severe.
The firefighting effort, including aviation and personnel is costly. The loss of buildings and power transmission lines is common. The loss of whole communities is tragic. As whole towns shut down, tax revenue drops dramatically. Recovery can be a long-term proposition. The loss of vegetation and recreation assets can be significant. The fire itself increases our carbon output and we lose the vegetation to capture carbon.
When you add up the suppression, indirect and rehabilitation costs, the infamous 2002 Hayman Fire in Colorado, cost around $207 million, according to the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition. Each cost category has gone up exponentially since then.
Recently, I had the opportunity to stay at one of the magnificent Summit County Huts. The journey began at a Summit Stage stop in Frisco near the post office. The ride as always is free to guests and 15 minutes later I disembarked at Passage Point Copper Mountain.
The group of volunteers gathered, then made our way up the Colorado Trail about 5.5 miles to Janet’s Cabin. The forest was reasonably plush, as it had been raining and at 11,000 feet. Dead lodgepole pines were not in sight. It even snowed in the evening and the next chilly morning. The outing provided the perfect get away to think about the daunting environmental issues here in the region and beyond.
Millions of Americans will visit our magnificent forests and waterways over the summer engaged in hiking, rafting, fishing, and camping. This is coincidentally at a time when we are in full crisis mode, as the Pacific Northwest and Northeast Coast bake in an extremely dangerous heat wave. Humans are suffering and dying. Infrastructure is severely strained as roads are buckling and power cables are melting.
This follows an extreme episode in the already notoriously arid southwest where a 20-year mega drought continues with expectations that it will get worse.
Global warming trends are a significant contributor to the precarious situation we face. The parched soil is not able to help absorb the heat as temperatures rise. Global warming is costing us and will continue to do so in the future unless we act with massive ferocity.
It was snowing here in Summit County a few weeks ago, when I boarded the Colorado Bustang bus service at the Frisco Transit Center. I was heading west for a mud season break. It was me, my backpack, and my bike. My destination, Grand Junction. And after a few comfortable hours reading and napping, I arrived at the Grand Valley Transportation Station. There are timely bus connections to take you just about anywhere in the region, including Palisade and Fruita. The drivers are friendly and informative.
Beyond the Trail Series
Powerful Outdoor Restoration Bill
You will be heartened to learn Senator Michael Bennet has just introduced the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, a powerful step forward for our forests and watersheds. The Senator rightly cites our natural assets as infrastructure that warrant investment.
This is a key development. I have long advocated for this approach to natural asset restoration and care. If we don’t leave a factory in disrepair, why would we allow our life and economy providing natural assets to deteriorate?
As a kid in Milwaukee, WI, my parents encouraged me to play outside and in the dirt. The backyard and all the beautiful parks were fair game and after an adventurous day getting dirty, I felt healthy and energized waiting to do it all again. Little did I know at the time how powerful and dynamic soil really is for us.
It is so important that archaeologists have determined the demise of many sophisticated civilizations, such as the Mayans of Central America and the Harappan of India, resulted directly from the mismanagement of their soils. (Soil Science of America)
“One Sustainable Brand at a Time”
We currently consume goods & services with little attention to their ecological footprint. For us to reach a sustainable balance between humans and the natural world, our consumption and choices must experience a radical paradigm shift with conscientious purchases that protect our natural resources.
Here in Summit County, two startups in retail are changing this dynamic. In Breckenridge, Folcland Clothing (https://folcland.com) owner Alyssa Pullekines takes sustainability seriously. She offers a dynamic suite of women’s clothes. “Not only do the lines we offer prioritize natural, up-cycled, and eco-friendly materials and low impact techniques, but also overall production quality and labor standards,” says Pullekines.