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On Earth Day, commit to protecting our natural resources

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Friday, April 13, 2018 9:01 PM

The topic for this month’s column came easily to mind – Earth Day. It is April, after all. The 48th anniversary of Earth Day is April 22.

My predecessor, Sally Shuffield, has eloquently covered the history of this global event and the importance of continuing to work for environmental protections to ensure that our children and subsequent generations have access to clean water and air. If you’re interested in the history, I encourage you to seek out her April 2017 column. I’m taking a different tack.

My past columns have benignly encouraged readers to pay attention to the world around them. The reality is change is occurring rapidly in the natural world, and we need to act now – collectively and systemically – to stem the tide. There are plenty of people working to understand what it all means, but the fact is, we don’t really know the implications. Not fully.

I’ve worked at the intersection of scientific research and federal and state policy for many years, most recently on climate change issues in the Mid-Atlantic. My most unlikely allies on this issue were retired military officers. They have experienced firsthand the threat climate change poses to our national security.

A 2015 Department of Defense report to Congress details the national security issues in depth. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, has been speaking nationally on this issue for a while. Rising sea levels threaten coastal military bases, and the cost to protect them from increased flooding skyrockets. Simultaneously, intense storms, wildfires, droughts and famines will result in more volatility in already-unstable countries, and the number of climate refugees fleeing uninhabitable regions will grow as well. The global threat is monumental.

In the West, we see the impacts directly – especially this year. With extreme drought conditions now declared for Southwest Colorado, I expect most of us are poignantly aware of the increased fire potential and the impacts on agriculture and on recreational opportunities. Communities downstream that rely on our snowpack should be equally concerned if not more. Even in our own county, we expect to wrestle with increasing challenges in sustaining agriculture and delivering water where it’s needed and keeping it at bay where it’s becoming too much.

At Backcountry Experience’s recent Women Outside Adventure Forum, they screened the documentary “End of Snow.” Researchers from that film would tell you that this year is not an anomaly but rather a sign of things to come. The implication for future generations is significant. I would argue that now, more than ever, we need to work together toward solutions to address climate change and to learn how to adapt to a rapidly transforming environment.

Now is the time to commit to your children, your grandchildren, your neighbors or yourself that you will take action to protect our natural resources. Earth Day in Durango will showcase an array of opportunities to get involved:

Durango Nature Studies is proud to host the ninth annual Earth Day Festival in Rotary Park from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 22. Nearly 20 different organizations and businesses will provide tangible ways for you to engage in conservation efforts. A climate march will begin at the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot at 10:30 a.m. April 22 and culminate at Rotary Park. Twenty-five wearable monarch wings will be available for children on a first-come, first-served basis, and the D&SNG will provide milkweed seeds to participating children at the end of the parade. At Fort Lewis College, the Environmental Center is hosting the “Leaf a Legacy” tree planting and barbecue. RSVP to Rachel Landis at rllandis@fortlewis.edu. We are fortunate to live in such a unique, beautiful place, but its future depends on our actions now.

Stephanie Weber is executive director of Durango Nature Studies. Reach her at stephanie@durangonaturestudies.org.

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