Opinion | Linda Harmon: Friends of the Lower Blue River are fighting the good fight

Climate Change is an undeniable and definite fact whether you like it not. As a grandmother of three, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I’ve never understood why climate deniers are so adamant in their refusal to accept the fact that climate change will completely affect where we live in the next few decades. I am extremely grateful for the foresight and hard work being done by people who do believe in science and fully understand the grave dangers climate change presents for communities like Summit County.

Summit County’s nonprofit Friends of the Lower Blue River is in the process of conducting a Safe Soils/Climate Resiliency Initiative. What does this mean? The organization asked the owners of three ranches in Summit County, and one in Grand County, to have their soils studied by a highly reputable eco-consulting firm, Geosyntec. This firm will determine, through their research, the condition of the soils and how that effects the Blue River, the wildlife that live off the land, and the potential for fires. 

“We’re trying to determine the health of the soil and what we can do to help mitigate fire danger by identifying the ways we can retain water,” said Johnathan Knopf, executive director of Friends of the Lower Blue River. Knopf also explained that researchers are saying that in 30 years Colorado’s climate could look like Arizona’s.

The four ranches that participated in the study are Blue Tree Ranch, Otter Creek Ranch and Pass Creek in Summit and Blue Valley Ranch in Grand. The samples will show total organic carbon, nutrient levels and available water capacity. The goal is to educate private landowners on how to establish practices that will make their land more resilient to drought and provide a healthier environment for the Blue River Valley. Additionally, it hopes to enhance the ecosystem that provides water and reduces the risk of severe wildfire.

Thanks to the enthusiastic support of our Democratic congressional leaders, U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and U.S. Representative Joe Neguse, there is potential to have funding help from the federal government. This is important because the information being gathered here in Summit and Grand counties could be used throughout the state of Colorado and the rest of the country. 

This study will show the levels of “good” versus where there are opportunities for improvement in terms of climate resiliency. It will also grade different ranch habitat areas on its eco-health and make recommendations for improvement. This is how science works: it tests what needs to tested and honestly evaluates the outcome. 

Knopf explained how the nonprofit decided to take on this study. Friends of the Lower Blue River began 20 years ago to help prevent commercial threats to the lower Blue River Valley. He said, “the neighbors and ranchers did not want a golf course because they did not want this development to ruin the pristine nature of our wonderful valley, which is one of the prettiest valleys in the state.”

After that they have taken on several other issues that threatened the valley including most recently helping to stop a gravel mine.

“I approached the board and said do we want to sit back and wait for the next thing to happen, or do we want to do something that is proactive that would have a greater impact.” Knopf said. “The board agreed and acknowledged that if we don’t do something now about climate change, in 10 years our wonderful Blue River Valley may not be what we see today. It is an existential treat to the valley, not a commercial threat.”

With this new direction a few months ago, they hired former board member Tom Koehler to be their new director of climate action. Knopf and Koehler began working on this study with the ranchers in the valley. Koehler said, “we are striving for dynamic solutions to improve our landscape, while mitigating the impact of climate change.”

Friends of the Lower Blue River is a small but impactful organization and being a resident of the Blue River Valley I am so grateful for their determination and commitment. Climate change is real and their work could mean my grandchildren can enjoy the valley as much as I have.

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