Posts in: Rockies Project Events
Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project Conference 2013 Day Two
by Nathaniel Kelley, Rockies Project Writer
If Denver could hold the 2024 Summer Olympics, would you support it? Such a large event would have major economic and environmental impacts on our state. Would hosting the Games be worth the possible fiscal and quality-of-life risks? Former Colorado Gov. Richard Lamm and Ceil Folz both addressed this issue on the second night of Colorado College’s 2013 State of the Rockies Project Conference, backdropped against the extensive research Colorado College students conducted over the past year on the Colorado River Basin.
The session opened with the unveiling of the State of the Rockies Report Card, featuring the results of the 2012-13 student research. Marking the 10 anniversary of the project, this report focused on “Water Friendly Future for The Colorado River Basin,” examining critical issues affecting the eight-state Rocky Mountain region, composed of Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
This year’s report focused on the perennial goals of Research, Report, and Engage, looking for ways to achieve a “water friendly future” for the Colorado River Basin. A large part of the report paralleled a two-year study by the Bureau of Reclamation that looked into the demand-supply imbalances that exist.
The first section, “Lake Powell to Lake Powell: Portraits of the Upper Colorado River,” explored the Colorado River Basin up close and personal, incorporating elements and research from the Bureau of Relcmation study. This study resulted in the forthcoming Powell to Powell online video series that comes out in late April.
“Agricultural Water Use in the Colorado River Basin: Conservation and Efficiency Tools for a Water Friendly Future” investigated irrigation inefficiencies and the detriments of “buy and dry” tactics to increase municipal supply. It found that “irrigation efficiency strategies fail to offer a silver bullet for water conservation in agriculture and that alternative transfer methods must play a crucial role in meeting the competitive needs” for a water friendly future to exist. It recommends transcending misconceptions of water use in agriculture, fostering cooperation and collaboration among stakeholders, and supporting conscientious decisions that keep in mind the needs of all stakeholders.
“Municipal and Industrial Water Use in the Colorado River Basin: Moving Towards a Paradigm Shift in Water Reclamation” looked at the conservation techniques already being implemented on the Colorado Front Range, as well as tried to find new routes for municipal and industrial users to take. As the population of the Basin states doubles to a projected 62 million over the next 50 years, education is the main goal, the study says. Water providers need to provide the tools to consumers for balanced cooperation and sacrifices that benefit everyone.
“Water and Watts: How Electrical Generation Has and Will Continue to Shape the Colorado River and Can Renewable Energy Lead the Colorado River Basin into a Water Friendly Future?” explored the different paths utilities could take to meet the ever-increasing energy demands of the Basin States, focusing on less water-intensive technologies. The study recommends that plants switch from coal to natural gas, an easy change that would use half the water and would emit half the carbon dioxide. Coupled with a slow transition to more efficient renewable energy and cooperation between states, energy usage could become significantly more sustainable over the next few decades.
Lastly, the report urges Coloradans to be active in “learning about, enjoying, and helping to protect the spectacular vistas and regions Colorado College is blessed to call ‘our backyard.’” Calling for civic engagement from students, alumni, friends and the community, the project seeks to create a sustainable Colorado for generations to come.
The presentation of the Champion of the Rockies Award to Colorado’s former Governor followed. The Champion of the Rockies Award was initiated in 2007 to honor leaders of vision, drive and determination whose efforts are positively shaping the Rocky Mountain region’s present and future. Last year’s recipient was then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar. Previous recipients include environmentalist and philanthropist Ted Turner; Ed and Betsy Marston, the former publisher and editor, respectively, of the High Country News in Paonia, Colo., and author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams.
After accepting the award, Lamm delivered the keynote talk (what he called “a movie review with two book reviews and some environmental talk in the middle), entitled, “Early Colorado Environmental Movement and the 1976 Winter Olympics Controversy.” He referenced Gwynth Paltrow’s movie Sliding Doors, a film that questions the idea of split destinies and the idea of serendipity. The possibility of life going completely different paths carried over into his question of “how do you change public policy?”
He followed the path of the Woman’s Movement from “no talk; no do” to the final stage where equality is so engrained the discussion is unnecessary: “no talk; do.” To get to that point, though, Lamm said,“it starts off with a conversation, with an audacious person raising an issue.”
Focusing on, what he called sliding doors and audacity, Lamm dove into the battle against the 1976 Olympics. In 1972, most everyone, including public opinion, favored having the Winter Olympics in Colorado. Lamm saw the issue differently, though, realizing that the past two places to hold the Olympics had been holding $1 billion in debt. The cost of the bobsled and luge alone was four times the annual state appropriation for air and water pollution control.
The Rocky Mountain News let him make his case against it, and bumpers stickers “Don’t Californicate Colorado” began popping up on the cars of those who opposed the massive growth, enormous fiscal risk, and potential decrease in quality of life that hosting the Olympics presented. Eventually, his efforts led to the idea being shot down. The incident left a bad taste in the mouth of the Olympic Committee, though, who still continue to avoid Colorado as a host for the Games.
Lamm noted the significant differences today, especially concerning environmental issues: voters are more conscientious, as are corporations; there are more intangible threats to the environment that we are trying to deal with so future generations can live healthily; and the responsibility has shifted onto the individual.
He ended his talk with his “two book reviews.” The first was The Spirit Gene by Reg Morrison which argues that, as a species, we are genetically dispositioned to want to growth and expansion, a trait that is difficult to escape. Unfortunately, a 3 percent growth rate means a double of economic activity every 23 years, so how do we find a sustainable society?
The second review was of Millennial Momentum, a book that focuses on the burgeoning Millennial generation, a group that has 17 million more members than the Baby Boomers. It claims that every 80 years, a real leadership generation faces and overcomes the gargantuan challenges that are presented. The Millennials are that generation, Lamm agreed, saying to the audience, “So, go at it.”
Ceil Folz, president and chief executive officer of Vail Valley Foundation, spoke about “Major Events…Bringing the World to Colorado and Colorado to the World: Vail Resorts Hosting of February 2015 World Cup Ski Championships.”
The 2015 Championships marked the third time in less than three decades that Vail/Beaver Creek have hosted the event. Folz noted that World Championships medals are just as valuable as Olympics,’ and that all of the alpine events cross over.
She then showed the clip of Franz Klammer’s 1976 Olympic Gold run which, in what is known as the “Klammer Kick,” stimulated the skiing industry for the next two years for the fastest growth it has ever had. At that time, Beaver Creek did not exist yet, and Vail had less than 1,000 residents. She agreed with the “real and legitimate” concerns that Lamm had about the 1976 but illustrated why Colorado is know the perfect place for large events.
Per capita, Colorado is number one for major events per year. It is also the fittest state, the third youngest, and the second most educated. This demographic, especially with the high microbrew consumption, perfectly matches the sports-going crowd.
Already, $9.4 billion is brought in annually through recreation tourism, and an estimated $160 million will be brought in through Championships. We are a “tourism-drive state,” Folz said, shifting focus to how the 2015 event will be beneficial to Colorado. The decision to have the Championships for a third time was a community decision, and the infrastructure and budgeting can be used from the previous proceedings, she said.
Finally, Folz examined if Denver would be in the running anytime soon to host the Games. It is highly contingent on the I-70 corridor, but maybe Summer 2024 or Winter 2026 will afford Colorado the chance. The facilities already exist, but she did note the possibly financial risks. “It’s not the Olympics that make us broke,” she said. “It’s the choices that are made around them.”
She concluded by stating that 13 percent of American pay attention to science while 60 percent tune into sports. Folz said that the Championships’ “really strong environmental method and message” could use events as a vehicle to teach about re-using and recycling, as well as other environmental issues. Paired with the building process to stimulate economic growth and the renovation of existing structures, she says that the Olympics could be just what Colorado needs.
“I would bet all of Gov. Lamm’s concerns still happened,” she said over a 2012 picture of Metro Denver. “1976 was a catalyst for change. It changed Colorado for good and bad.” The grudge of denying the Olympic Committee is fading away, though, and, she said, “in Gov. Lamm’s own words: ‘Colorado is the geography for hope,’ and we can hope.”
Nathaniel Kelley is a 2012 graduate from Lafayette College, who writes about environmental issues, health care reform and musicology.
Colorado College’s State of the Rockies Project Annual Spring Conference 2013
Day 1- Monday, April 8th, 2013
By Nathaniel Kelley, Rockies Project Writer
Are you a citizen scientist? You may not think so, but you’ve likely used Wikipedia, the popular free Internet encyclopedia with entries that can be created and edited by anyone around the world. Along the same line, citizen science rides on the back of technology and the proliferation of social media to foster large-scale field observations. The concept is now being applied to environmental projects to collect previously unimaginably large amounts of data that can then be dispersed to the greater scientific community.
Speakers at the first evening of Colorado College’s two-day annual State of the Rockies Project Conference, on April 8 at the Cornerstone Arts Center on campus, discussed this issue and others relating to this year’s overall theme: “Conservation in the Rockies: Issues of Citizen Science, Water Friendly Futures and Winter Recreation.”
Now in its 10th year, the Project examines 2,500 miles of the Colorado River, focusing on the basin. Expeditions traverse the length of the river, getting hands-on data. The output comes in many forms, though, from the annual Rockies Report Card to talks at Ivy League universities and a five-part online video series, which will premiere in late April. An expedition, entitled “Traversing the Spine of the Continent,” is slated for later this year to explore locales from the Crown of the Continent in Montana to the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Thomas J. McMurray, president and chief executive officer of Marine Ventures Foundation, moderated Monday’s presentation, which focused on “Citizen Science in the Rockies: Outdoor Adventure Strengthening Knowledge of Nature.”
Since founding Marine Ventures in 2000, McMurray has been involved in a wide range of conservation project in the United States, Argentina, Mexico, Cuba, the Bahamas and Western Australia. He is also a co-founder of the BlueCloud Spatial, a collaborative project of dedicated research and conservation groups pursuing protection and restoration goals in some of the most important marine, estuarine and river ecosystems, in North and South American, and Western Australia.
Citizen science has been around for centuries, he said. Alexander Von Humboldt led a Latin American expedition from 1799-1804, studying animals and the surrounding culture and then dispersed that knowledge to the larger exploration community.
The Audubon Society carried the next torch, McMurray said, with its Christmas bird count, which began in 1900 with 27 participants. The three-week count consisted of watchers shooting birds and collecting them for classification. Last year, the count of visual confirmation had 60,000 counters observing over 70 million birds.
More recently, the Oxford Astrophysics department created the Galaxy Zoo program, which turned into Zooniverse. The program brings together 816,000 volunteers in 196 countries to look at space images and decide what each contains. This allows for the constituent parts of an image to be verified repeatedly. The next wave, McMurray said, is coming from emerging technologies, allowing for large-scale field observations. Web and App platforms are essentially free, allowing for rapid network growth. These “new ideas with a lot of risk” could speed up the accumulation of knowledge so that we can “move faster to protect the environment,” he believes.
McMurray outlined four steps to using this new system: community, content, curation and engagement. If the community can rally around a clear objective and understand it, people can effectively collect content. Technology allows for accurate data to be collected immediately, which then allows for quick digestion and turn-around back to the audience for evaluation.
Carson McMurray, a 2012 Colorado College graduate, discussed “Uses of Citizen Science on the 2012 Down the Colorado Expedition—Blue Cloud Mapping Effort.” The trip culminated in the Powell to Powell: Portraits of the Colorado River five-part online video series that will be shown in efforts with Canoe and Kayak Magazine.
The Down the Colorado Expedition was an 80-day trip that covered about 900 miles from the headwater of the Colorado River to Glen Canyon Dam. The travelers worked with the University of Colorado at Boulder and Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to collect soil samples to trace carbon from recent fires. They also created an interactive map to display findings, and, most importantly, McMurray noted, they each experienced the Upper Colorado River firsthand.
“The story is so much more dynamic” living out there and interacting with the community surrounding the river, he explained. He talked to farmers, environmentalists and other people who had strong viewpoints about water rights issues. “You understand when you feel it,” he said. “It can’t be communicated. When you see it, it all clicks.”
McMurray made no qualms about why he began the venture, explaining that, as a recent graduate, he did not want to get a desk job, and this opportunity let him travel the Colorado River with some of his best friends. He went on to show the fourth episode of the documentary called “Confluence.” This section of the film focused on “community engagement” and how to get more people focused on the issues that plague the river.
Various experts talked about how the change begins with the simplest of choices, such as turning off the water when brushing one’s teeth, because it shows a mental commitment. Discussions can develop from there. The next step involves personal experience with the river. Once common ground is established, the larger culture can come to an understanding before “a multi-national corporation comes in and pushes us around to drill and mine and dam,” as one expert said. The river itself does not get any water allocation, even though it provides all of it, and no changes will come unless the public pressures lawmakers to “fix our rivers.”
McMurray shifted gears, bringing the focus back to a more local level on how citizen science could be improved at Colorado College. He mentioned current projects in the environmental and biology departments, as well as the State of the Rockies Project. Potential exists through the Outdoor Recreation Club, the Ritt Kellogg and Venture Grants—which have sent students on trips around the world, such as ice climbing in British Columbia—and the guided trips, such as the New Student Orientation, which could incorporate science components.
He did not shy away from mentioning the potential obstacles, though, such as the initial investment in creating the framework and the size of the smaller college. His collaboration with CU Boulder on the Expedition, though, helped show that cross-college studies can prove extremely beneficial. Lastly, McMurray mentioned desire as both the “greatest potential and obstacle,” nothing that it all depends on “if the student body wants to do it and the faculty is there to support them.”
Scott Loarie, a post-doctoral fellow in the department of global ecology at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif., discussed “Can Social Networks Save Biodiversity?” His presentation focused on crowd-sourcing citizen-science data through the lens of the iNaturalist company that he co-founded.
Loarie’s goal is to “scale the collection of data,” especially in light of “two huge problems:” people’s lack of engagement with nature and the “incredible conservation problems we’ll have to face this century.” He cited climate change and the exploitation of wildlife as two of the many factors, saying we are finally witnessing a paradigm shift that requires “new tools to address.”
He showed a few studies that directly linked climate change to extinction, but the “extinctions happened under our nose” because the data could not handle that type of study. Technology has given us the possibility to map in real-time, for example, the deforestation of the Amazon, which has been crucial to slow down the process. We can’t use satellites for animals, though. That’s where “crowd sourcing” comes in.
Loarie used the example of reCAPTCHA, an online system that presents two words to users trying to watch a video or see a website to ensure that the viewer is human and not a computer. The system only cares about the first word, though. The second word is a Google project that uses imaging software to identify scanned text. When Google has difficulty recognizing a word, it puts it into reCAPTCHA where users repeatedly validate what a certain word is. “This is the kind of data we need to answer these questions,” Loarie says, noting how apps like eBird have used this same idea to generate over 100 million records.
His company, iNaturalist—a website and an app that over 400 other programs use as a platform—lets users share photos of animals and plants to then be verified by the larger community. Their mission is to “connect people to nature through technology” which, in turn, leads to a greater understanding of biodiversity. Each submitted picture has a time, date, and location, just like a museum ID. People using the app then debate and come to a conclusion about what species is represented in the picture.
“This is the kind of system we want,” he said, because it can “turn those things from photos into observations.” No longer is one person both the citizen and the scientist. Each entry is able to rely upon thousands of minds to decide what a bird is, not just one like the Audubon’s Christmas bird count.
Loarie worries most about incentivizing the program so that both the submitters and the scientists feel value returning back to them. Both parties are giving their time and content for free, so it is important that each gets validation, at least from the social networking community. The platform can “connect groups of people that haven’t interacted in the past” – those who have the knowledge and are passionate about it, and those who have the access to all of the different animals and plants that inhabit our word. All of that data gets sent to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility, and, at an estimated $50 a specimen, iNaturalist’s volunteers have already generated $3 million in value.
Brendan Weiner, an ex-fire fighter turned program director for Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation in Bozeman, Mont., discussed “Turning to Adventure Athletes for Data Collection.”
Founded in January 2011 by Greg Treinish, ASC wanted to find a way to do more with all of the time people spend outside. After Treinish spent 667 days traveling 7,800 miles through five countries along the length of the Andes (thereby winning the National Geographic Adventurer of the Year award), he decided to create a program that would focus on “bringing the adventure and science communities together” through pairing athletes that are already going out into the field with scientists that need data. Rowers, climbers, divers, mountaineers and adventurers of all kinds are now collecting useable and meaningful data for both parties.
Over the past two years, ASC has sent more than 80 people as pika researchers, who found perhaps the highest known specimen of ice worm ever collected, the highest known plant life (moss) on Earth from 22,000 feet on Mt. Everest, and two new species of single-celled algae. Some of these findings, such as the Everest moss, have larger implications that may lead to helping crops survive severe droughts. Their more than 34 ongoing projects allow for many people to make multiple observations of the same places, helping to prove the presence or absence of certain species.
ASC also leads guided outings, working with students, military veterans, nonprofit agencies, and other groups to take, for example, students from Oakland who had not previous been in nature and turning them into scientists that helped document pikas in areas that had not had solid records before. Their future goals include continuing “to work with as many adventurers as possible” to collect data from around the world.
The question and answer session at the end tackled a few of the persistent problems that exist in such a burgeoning and, currently, niche field. Loarie conceded that it is only a “small fraction of the population who wants to spend their weekend looking at wolverines,” but that he would “rather try to bring people into this tent than change the idea” because that would sacrifice the science.
He again noted that the scientists are not getting any professional reward for helping with these endeavors, and that there needs to be a way for scientists to engage with the public while also receiving academic feedback, as well.
Thomas McMurray brought the evening’s discussion full-circle, asking if “citizen science data is accepted as valuable” in the government and academic communities. The conclusion was a resounding “yes;” a Ph.D. student can only cover a few hectares of land over the course of an entire thesis study, but, with the help of crowd-sourced data, we all can cover so much more. Yes, Loarie said, we may sacrifice a bit of quality for quantity, but it is the Wikipedia model: errors are introduced and corrected so rapidly that program like iNaturalist now contribute data that is even more accurate than that of museums.
Nathaniel Kelley is a 2012 graduate from Lafayette College, who writes about environmental issues, health care reform and musicology.
The fifth annual State of the Rockies Conference will be held April 6-8 on the Colorado College campus and will mark the launch of the 2008 State of the Rockies Report Card.
Colorado College students: submit your photographs for the inaugural 2008 Rockies Photo Contest!
The Colorado College State of the Rockies Project is calling for student photo submissions. Select photos may be included in the 2008 State of the Rockies Report Card, and multiple cash prizes will be awarded at the State of the Rockies Conference in April, 2008.
Speakers and Schedule for the 2007 Wilderness/Wildlands Speakers’ Series
Energizing the Rockies was a monthly speaker series running from December 2006 to March 2007, co-sponsored with the Schlessman Business Perspectives Program, which addressed the impacts the current energy boom is having on the communities and environment in the eight-state Rockies region.
Noting his strong commitment to the health and preservation of the Rocky Mountain West region, Colorado Collegeâ€™s State of the Rockies Project awarded its first Champion of the Rockies Award to environmentalist, philanthropist and media giant Ted Turner.Turner, who owns the largest amount of private land in the United States, manages the largest private bison herd in North America, and is one of the nationâ€™s most influential environmental philanthropists, accepted the award at 12:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 3 in Armstrong Hall, 14 E. Cache La Poudre St., on the Colorado College campus.