Understanding our environment is an important step to loving it

Friday, Feb. 9, 2018 9:35 PM

It’s February already – that time of year when pink and red hearts invade our world and implore us to declare our love to our partners, children, peers and anyone else who happens to cross our paths.

At Durango Nature Studies, we’re in the midst of our “Surviving and Thriving in Winter” programs. Most days our staff naturalists and volunteers are busy with groups of students, helping them better understand our wintry world, so you won’t find any hearts hanging from our office ceiling.

Usually, our January and February programs are conducted on snowshoes; however, I don’t need to tell you it has been a bit sketchy this year for snowshoeing and other snow sports. Despite uncooperative weather, our field trips continue. When students join us for field experiences, we show them how to really look at their surroundings and to ask questions to better understand the natural world, with the hopes of instilling a lifelong love for it.

Only by truly knowing something can we know when it is not itself. When you love someone, you know when they’re not doing well. Sometimes a diagnosis is simple, but oftentimes, it takes assistance to diagnose the problem. It’s an apt analogy for our environment. As stewards of our environment, we need to take note of changes in our surroundings. While the causes and implications may not be immediate, they provide insight and should compel us to pay attention and, potentially, take action.

Two recent articles in The Durango Herald highlight this point. The Jan. 10 article “Juniper trees across Southwest Colorado are taking a mysterious turn” reports that our juniper trees are turning brown. There are several hypotheses as to why, and more research is needed, but because people know the junipers in this region, they have been able to recognize a dramatic change.

The second article on Jan. 14, “Sightings soar at the annual bird count,” points out that the variety of our winter feathered visitors has increased as a result of warmer temperatures. A group of ornithologists knows this region well enough to know which birds typically winter here and how that may be shifting. Ongoing observations help us understand if this is just an anomaly for this year or if we are seeing long-term changes.

Durango Nature Studies’ programs provide a foundation for both young and old to better understand our environment and recognize changes when they occur – to develop an understanding and, yes, love for our natural world. By doing so, we can plan, protect or adapt to longer-term changes.

If you want to learn more about our region, plan to join us for an upcoming community workshop. For more information, visit

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at