Senior Conservation Planner,
The Nature Conservancy in Colorado
The Nature Conservancy’s latest effort to combat climate change is beautifully simple.
Small rock structures – a concept created by Bill Zeedyk, a retired Forest Service biologist – are being constructed by the Gunnison Climate Working Group* in Gunnison, Colorado to reduce the effects of rising temperatures on habitats and species.
“Climate change is among the most important issues of our time,” says Betsy Neely, a lead member of the project and the Conservancy’s senior conservation planner. “We need to take action now to prepare for change.”
The small rock structures, one-foot high dams that create a wet environment for plant and animal species in sagebrush shrublands, are a tangible step in the right direction.
“Water from spring runoff and monsoon rains carries sediments and the rock structures capture the soil slowly over time,” explains Neely.
The structures effectively increase moisture in an area, helping wet-loving plants to flourish and creating invaluable habitat for species.
“Like so many of our riparian areas and wetlands in the state, even though they have a very small percentage of the landscape, they provide important habitat for many of our wildlife species,” explains Neely.
One key species the group is targeting is the Gunnison Sage-grouse.
The brood rearing habitat of the Gunnison Sage-grouse – the area in which the birds raise their young – is drying up.
Overall population numbers are drying up as well, and the species was recently proposed to be listed as Endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The changing habitat is caused in part from drought, earlier snowmelt and higher temperatures, resulting in a lower water table in the area.
Not only is the project helping directly reduce the effects of a changing climate, it’s helping to create a shift in mentality.
“The bottom line is that we need to take action, but a lot of us don’t know what to do,” says Neely.
“This project is helping us understand that we can take action and do something, one rock at a time, so we’re empowered to prepare for change.”
*Gunnison Climate Working Group Members: Bureau of Land Management: Colorado Natural Heritage Program, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Gunnison County, Gunnison County Stockgrowers Association, Lake Fork Valley Conservancy, National Center for Atmospheric Research, National Park Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Rocky Mtn. Biological Lab, The Nature Conservancy, University of Colorado/Western Water Assessment, Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District, US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Forest Service & Rocky Mountain Research Station, Western State Colorado University, Trout Unlimited.August 12, 2013