Environmental leaders voice biggest concerns on Earth Day | SteamboatToday.com

Environmental leaders voice biggest concerns on Earth Day

Steamboat Springs artist Jill Bergman created this image for Earth Day 2022. Bergman’s family plans to pick up trash along the Core Trail or dog waste from their neighborhood park for Earth Day this year.
Jill Bergman/Courtesy photo

This year’s international Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet — What Will You Do?” and local environmental professionals and volunteers hope Routt County residents will invest and participate in regional environmental efforts.

“Our most significant concern is that the Yampa Valley region is changing in unprecedented ways,” said Michelle Stewart, executive director at Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “It is getting hotter and drier with Routt and Moffat counties now ‘hot spots’ of warming, tracking over two times the national and global average temperature increases over the last century.

“Greenhouse gas emissions are the leading factor contributing to this increase in temperature. We see impacts from this warming in the form of drying in the landscape, reduced snowpack, earlier season runoff and more frequent, intense wildfires.”

Those involved in the sustainability council aren’t the only ones putting drought and water at the top of their list of concerns.

“As Routt County grows, it is ever more important to pay close attention to our water resources, how they are used and how we can better integrate water management and land use planning,” said former city council member Sonja Macys, who is running for county commissioner. “Drought is one of the most visible and impactful signs of climate change in Routt County. Our agricultural community is feeling the pressure.”

Yampatika Interim Executive Director Sameta Rush said more people should learn where their water comes from, how to keep it clean and prioritize using less water during their day-to-day activities.

“Understand that we are all part of a local, regional and global environmental system, and how we treat our little piece of the world does matter,” said Todd Hagenbuch, Routt County CSU Extension director and agriculture agent. “Reducing waste, building soil, removing invasive non-native plants and using water wisely are all small things we can do to make a difference on a larger scale.”

Hagenbuch said planting native, drought-tolerant plants is a relatively easy way to help promote a healthy environment for native pollinators while conserving water.

Get involved this Earth Day

Stewart recommends signing up as a volunteer for the Yampa Valley Climate Crew to help with tree planting, wetland and riparian habitat restoration, and site maintenance. The nonprofit also recommends residents sign up for a home energy assessment or become a zero waste volunteer or an electric vehicle ambassador.

Curtis Rogers, president of Friends of Wilderness, noted outdoor recreation lovers should make a concerted effort to disperse impacts by exploring lesser used trails. He said FOW has noticed an increase in trash and improper disposal of human waste during the last couple of years.

“We have seen an increase in the number of visitors to our wilderness areas,” Rogers said. “Many of these visitors are not knowledgeable about how to minimize their impact to the environment.”

Keep Routt Wild President Larry Desjardin attended the Partners in the Outdoors Conference in Vail this week that focused on how both outdoor recreation and conservation can thrive amidst a changing Colorado. Desjardin pointed out the importance of bear aware practices, respecting seasonal trail closures and keeping pets on a leash in areas of elk calving.

Despite many leaders having a long list of concerns and action items, they remain positive that investing in the planet through local action could make a difference this Earth Day.

“This is the decisive decade,” said Steamboat City Council Member Gail Garey. “With the adoption of the Climate Action Plan, there is a clear road map to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the most devastating impacts of climate change.”

The sustainability council encourages local leaders to focus on, and community members to engage in, actions that directly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to increase resilience to current and projected climate changes.

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