Monday, June 18, 2012

Colorado Changes...

Sunset atop Rabbit Ears Pass.
I'm not a climate change zealot--I believe it's real and I try to base my beliefs in science and what little anecdotal evidence I can gather on my own. But I'm not out to convince those who believe otherwise that mankind has had a significant impact in the way the world's weather is changing.

Nevertheless, I think it's safe to say that--regardless of the cause--most folks are coming around to the idea that something funky's going on. Even Sarah Palin recognized climate change--recently uncovered memos between then-Gov. Palin and the late Sen. Ted Stevens discussed relocating coastal Alaskan villages in preparation for higher sea levels.

But today, I've become a bit more concerned about the climate-change phenomenon. I don't have any more hard data. I haven't uncovered some new climate model that predicts doom and gloom for everything from trout to grizzly bears.

I just went fishing.

High-country brook trout.
I'm in Colorado this week, squeezing a quick vacation around the day job and generally trying to spend some time with the family that doesn't revolve around little-league baseball, the Xbox or iCarly. After a full day in front of the computer, and an hour or so in the pool this evening, I ventured to the top of Rabbit Ears Pass in search of some little out-of-the-way creek that might tolerate my presence until it got too dark to fish.

Mission accomplished.

But here in Colorado--where the worst wildfire in the state's history rages out of control just over the Continental Divide--I'm seeing unsettling things. Today, I fished a gorgeous high-mountain meadow--a tiny trickle of a stream pushed its way through hip-high willows, meandered around bluffs and the disappeared into the lodgepoles on its way down the mountain.

Dead lodgepoles. Almost to the tree. As the sun set over the meadow, the rusty, orange hue off the beetle-killed trees was almost beautiful and completely sad. Pine beetles have had their way with Colorado's forests, and it's devastating to see.

I managed to catch a few spirited brookies from the little creek--I have no idea what its name is--with my tenkara rod, and when the sun dipped below the skeletal trees atop the ridge, I wandered back up the trail and back to the car. As I topped the pass and looked out over Steamboat Springs far below, I became more aware of the dead trees surrounding this amazing place. Everywhere I looked, I saw patches of barren lodgepoles--some gray and long dead, others brown and orange ... the more recent victims.

Dead pine trees ... a Colorado crisis.
One day, just like the trees to east, they'll burn. And when they do, it's going to hot and fast. It's not "if." It's "when."

Unfortunately, for the lodgepoles of the Rockies, we've likely passed a tipping point when it comes to climate change. They're not likely to recover. Years of fire suppression have likely contributed to this problem, but other signs indicate that we can't just point the finger at suspect forestry on our public lands, and explain the beetle kill that way.

When I stepped into the creek this evening, I was expecting the bone-chilling cold water that is synonymous with the high country. The water was cold. But, at well over 10,000 feet, it wasn't as cold as it should be. And that's a theme across the state. Winters, which used to be cold enough long enough to keep pine beetles in check, are now shorter and warmer.

And, again, anecdotally, I can tell a difference. It's the little things, like the general lack of an evening chill that used to accompany the setting sun here in Steamboat at 7,000 feet. Or June temperatures that tickle 90 in Colorado's northern high country--unheard of even 30 years ago.

There are steps we, as a nation, can take to combat climate change, but first we have to get past the politics of it. And, frankly, I don't care what's causing it. I just want to know what we can do to make its impact less dreadful ... today, and when my kids inherit what we've left behind.

For the lodgepoles of Colorado, it's too late.


  1. It's been a sad run for us lately...hopefully we can leave the next generation something better. hopefully.

    1. Bad run, indeed... just the dead trees alone breaks my heart. Then, thinking of the inevitable fires ... that's simply terrifying. I keep hearing things like, "Well, maybe the aspen will come back once the pines go away," but the aspen are having their own troubles with diseases (many of which are believed to be induced by a changing climate). '

      It's a shame... dirty damn shame. Here's the kicker: What's the worst thing that could happen if we started really focusing on reducing carbon and greenhouse gases, even if the science is wrong? More new energy jobs, less dependence on foreign oil and gas (and oil and gas in general), healthier air and lower health care bills. What's the worst if we don't do something? A planet that might be inhabitable in 100 years...

      Now I DO sound like a zealot, huh?

  2. I have noted the changes that have taken place here in NY since I was a kid....and like you I fear for my children and generations to come. I think of the things I have been able to witness and enjoy and it saddens me to think there may come a time when my grandkids will have only "heard stories" of winter snows and the kinds of animals that used to be present in our neighborhood. From the local to the national level WE ALL must start making better choices NOW about how we live our lives and how we treat the environment around us. Great post.

    1. Thanks man... much appreciated. Unfortunately, this issue has been hijacked by politicians on both sides of the aisle and we may never, in our lifetime, see any action taken. And by then, I fear, it'll be too late.

  3. Thanks, Chris. A truly great ... I hesitate to call it a post, because it's so much more - let's say a heartfelt, poignant essay.

    I work on educating people about climate change almost every day. I wish I didn't have to. It's invariably depressing, mostly because we have the ability to do things in a far saner, more sustainable way, but also because it's viewed by so many as a secondary issue; something we can address at our leisure after we straighten out the economy and get our political house in order. But it's not a secondary issue. It's the issue of our lives.

    We may have 5 or 10 years to start reducing our planetary-wide CO2 emissions - emissions which continue to grow by a couple of percent per year. And we may not. The dirty little secret that the greens don't talk about is that it may already be too late. But our best and brightest in the scientific community typically give us a couple years, or 5, or 10 at the outside. And if we don't listen? Well, the world won't be what it used to be for those of us moving towards our twilight years, while we condemn our kids and our grandkids to a planet that we wouldn't recognize.

    A couple of years ago I was on a conference call with 3 IPCC scientists and all 3 agreed that salmon and steelhead will likely go extinct within the next 50 years. Can you imagine a world where our anadromous salmonoids are gone and the only trout that survive live in the mile or two below huge dams with bottom-of-the-reservoir releases? But since we can't imagine that kind of world, since we recoil from such a possibility, we don't talk about it. And on those occasions when we do, we think of the more strident among us as alarmists and call their concerns "hyperbole" and "exaggerations."

    Yet in our hearts, we know something's wrong. We see it in the trees and feel it in the streams and sense it as a gnawing in our gut; especially when we look at our children as they sleep.

    God help us, because we've chosen not to help ourselves.

  4. Thanks for that, Todd... Just one look at the mountains tells me all I need to know... and that the future is grim if we don't make some serious changes. Immediately.

  5. Actually, I have heard from foresters who should know that once the needles fall off, the dead lodgepoles are not as flammable as you might think. We'll know when and if this High Park Fire gets into some.

  6. As a young gun wildlife biology major it is a sad story that is reiterated in every class, every drive down the beach, every talk with a masters student saying that according to her data, we will see the end of wild reproduction in speckled sea trout in my lifetime - not kidding.

    We of the outdoors-loving people understand that this issue goes beyond politics into something much more urgent, and it is our geas to try to get the message to the masses.

    1. Unfortunately, Austin, the masses are more into the message of convenience--it's hard to take on a challenge that threatens the planet. I suppose, if all the research out there didn't support the idea that greenhouse gases are responsible for, at the very least, speeding up a natural process, I could live with the idea that a rapidly changing climate is part of the natural order of things.

      But it doesn't. It's past time we acted on this.

      I hadn't heard that it was impacted specks... that totally sucks!

  7. A thoughtful piece, Chris. It amazes me that there are some folks who just don't believe that we're having a impact on this planet. As you say, you can deny the science if you're some sort of ostrich intellect but look around. Shit is changing.

  8. Nice writing Chris about the place I love and call home. It's been sad to see the disintegration of the trees over my relatively short lifetime. I waded Clear Creek last week and expected as usual, ice cold water. It was tepid. We all need to wake up and smell the coffee.

  9. Howard... Colorado is my home... Breaks my heart.

  10. You are not gonna stop it knuckles, no matter how much you walk to work

  11. You guys are all idiots. If any of you own internal combustion engines or use electricity in any way you are wretched hipocrits. You complain about this shit and then walk or bike to where you fish? Losers. Brook trout!? Seriously!?


  12. Nothing like a little anonymity to give a fella a set of balls, eh?