By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
Wilderness Workshop, the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies and Roaring Fork Audubon are about halfway through their Naturalist Nights winter speaker series. With topics ranging from wildlife biology to geology, and climate science to environmental policy, they run Wednesdays at the Third Street Center (520 S. 3rd St., Carbondale) and Thursdays at ACES (100 Puppy Smith Street, Aspen).
Early bird Sopris Sun readers still have a chance to catch Sarah Reed’s presentation, titled “Balancing Outdoor Recreation with Wildlife Conservation in Protected Lands” on Feb. 9 “Energy Development Impacts on Wildlife: Lessons Learned for the Next Energy Boom” with George Wittemyer is the next event to come downvalley on Feb. 15 (16 in Aspen).
Wittemyer, an associate professor at Colorado State University’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Conservation Biology, is well aware that he’s touching on a controversial topic.
“Sometimes these interest groups have a different perspective, and you have to come forward and find a balance point,” he said. “There are interesting questions to discuss about what we value as a society, the different options in front of us and how to move forward.”
Most of Wittemyer’s research has taken place in the Piceance Basin in the northwestern part of the state, making it a local issue as well. Specifically, the studies involve mule deer and how their behavior shifts in response to oil and gas activity.
“The habitat loss we often quantify as specific to the footprint on the landscape, but in fact it’s often much larger because of the sound and light,” he observed. “When you look at the U.S., energy is probably the primary driver of land use change. All of this is really being argued at (the) local, state and federal level.”
At the moment, populations seem to be holding steady as the boom-bust cycle of extraction gives deer a chance to rest, while mild winters provide unusual amounts of forage.
“You’ve got these factors, some of which are beneficial and some of which are costly,” Wittemyer noted.
He sees it as an opportune time to get outside the classroom and share information directly with the community.
“I think we can quite easily push things to go either way,” he said. “It really depends on the decisions we make, and the choices we have before us.”
On Feb. 22 and 23, Forest Service Research Social Scientist Sarah McCaffrey, Ph.D presents “Public Response to Fire Management: Conventional Wisdom vs. Reality,” followed by “Cutthroat Trout: Conservation Through Uncertainty” with Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Kendall Bakich on March 1 and 2. The series wraps up on March 7 (Aspen first, inverting the usual timing) and 8 (Carbondale) with Scott Rashid, Director of the Colorado Avian Research and Rehabilitation Institute, and a presentation on seven small mountain owls.