Talking Green: Colorado public lands critical to economy, way of life and addressing climate change
Two years ago, Colorado became the first state to establish a statewide Public Lands Day, celebrated the third Saturday in May, to honor the significant contributions that national, state and local public lands make to Colorado’s wildlife, outdoor recreation, economy and way of life.
More than 35 percent of Colorado’s land area is public land, and public lands make up 50 percent of Routt County. Throughout Colorado, the contributions these public lands make to our state’s economy are astounding — $28 billion in consumer spending, 229,000 jobs in outdoor recreation and more than 13 million visitors to Colorado state parks each year.
In honor of Colorado Public Lands Day and as part of the organization’s local climate action campaign, Yampa Valley Sustainability Council is highlighting the important role that public lands also play in helping ecosystems, wildlife and humans adapt to and mitigate climate change. NAWPA, an international committee of land management agencies, has identified the following six ways public lands help combat global warming.
• Wilderness and protected lands are critical to conserve biodiversity. In a changing climate, they provide safe havens for plants and animals to reproduce despite changing conditions.
• They also protect ecosystem services — the clean air and water that forests and wetlands provide. Intact ecosystems also offer a natural buffer to protect communities against disasters like the storms and floods associated with climate change.
• The unpredictable nature of climate change impacts species, both in place and in their migration patterns. Networks of protected lands connect landscapes to support ecosystem adaptation. Connecting land and freshwater habitats across different landscapes allows plants and animals to shift ranges and thrive in new locations.
• Forests, wetlands and grasslands also capture and store carbon, providing a sink for greenhouse gas emissions.
• Because protected areas are less modified by human activity than other lands, they provide unique opportunities to build knowledge and better understand the impacts of climate change.
• And finally, the wonders and natural beauty of wilderness and natural areas can inspire people to take action on climate change.
Routt County’s remarkable public lands have inspired YVSC to host two events celebrating Colorado Public Lands Day. At 6:30 p.m. May 17, in partnership with Bud Werner Memorial Library, YVSC is hosting Grounded: The Dirt on Public Lands. This evening of multi-media storytelling in Library Hall features more than 12 local artists and writers sharing their stories, inspired by public lands.
The second event is a celebration at Mountain Tap Brewery from 5 to 6:30 p.m. May 18. Mountain Tap is brewing a special beer in honor of Colorado Public Lands Day called “Get Out” — encouraging beer drinkers to get out and enjoy our local public lands. We are also honored to have Dylan Roberts, State Representative for House District 26 – Eagle and Routt County, provide an update on climate action at the state level.
We hope you can join YVSC to honor our Colorado and local public lands and get inspired to take action on climate change locally.
Sarah Jones is the executive director for the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council.
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