High Country Speaker series kicks off Tuesday at Walking Mountains | VailDaily.com

High Country Speaker series kicks off Tuesday at Walking Mountains

Daily staff report
Vail, CO Colorado

Climate change is a confusing and often controversial topic. As residents of Colorado’s high country, it is an issue that stands to impact our environment, economy and way of life. How might climate change effect our ski seasons? Was last year’s record snowfall an indication of climate change? Will the diversity of plant and animal life in our valley be altered? The 10th annual High Country Speaker Series, a partnership between the Eagle Valley Library District and Walking Mountains Science Center, will attempt to answer some of these questions from four scientists’ perspectives.

The series kicks off on Tuesday at Walking Mountains Science Center with “Climate Change Adaptive Strategies for Mountain Communities,” by Betsy Neely, biologist and senior conservation planner for the Nature Conservancy of Colorado (TNC). Neely is currently leading TNC’s efforts in the Gunnison River Basin as part of the Southwest Climate Initiative, which includes Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

In the Gunnison Basin, the mean annual temperature has risen by 1.5 degrees over the past 50 years, with more warming expected over the long term – a large enough rise to change the forests, grasslands and rivers that are the foundation of the region’s economy. In the Gunnison Basin, a partnership of federal, state and local agencies, colleges, NGOs and ranchers, the Gunnison Climate Working Group, has come together to better understand the impacts of climate change and develop adaptation strategies to help species, ecosystems and people adapt to a changing climate.

Over the course of several years, the Gunnison group, along with others participating in the Southwest Climate Initiative, have learned important lessons for residents and community leaders to consider.

• We know enough about climate change to take local action.

• Conservation organizations and land agencies are already doing a lot to restore and maintain ecosystems, but climate change means we must do more and do it smarter.

• To conserve ecosystems, we must understand how the environments are changing.

Eagle County shares a similar ecosystem and economy with the Gunnison Basin, and our residents can learn from their working group’s experience. Neely will provide an overview of the Gunnison Climate Working Group and how it can serve as a model for our mountain community.

The series continues at the Avon Public Library on Feb. 14, with Dr. Jill Baron, ecosystem ecologist, USGS and senior research ecologist at Colorado State University. On Feb. 28, Colorado State Climatologist Nolan Doesken will present on “Colorado’s Amazing Climate” at the Avon Public Library. The series will wrap up at Walking Mountains Science Center on March 14, when Richard Stucky, curator of paleoecology and evolution at Denver Museum of Nature and Science, will present “Really Hot and Really Cool Times in the Rocky Mountains.”

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