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By Rick Adams

As the Boulder County Board of Commissioners consider making two fields along Twin Lakes Road permanent county open space as they were once designated, wildlife diversity and well-being hangs in the balance. As I have written in the past, these seemingly valueless plots of land from a human-centric perspective, are the homes, feeding and nesting grounds for many species of wildlife with few other options in the area.

Our rampant and unrelenting destruction of the small remaining remnants of undeveloped land in Boulder County is causing significant loss in urban wildlife species that have nowhere else to go. As I write this essay, I am saddened to report that for the first time since moving to the Twin Lakes area in 2007, there are no chorus frogs singing this year in the wetlands. What has suddenly killed these populations remains a mystery, but the large-scale spraying of pesticides in the area last summer would be a prime suspect. Chorus frogs are considered indicator species of environmental decline due to their high susceptibility to pesticides and other toxins. They are major consumers of aquatic insects including mosquito larvae

I commonly watch owls, coyotes, foxes, birds, bats and raccoons using these two plots of land currently under consideration for open space designation. Although the owls’ nesting site that has been at the edge of these fields has broken down, the owls are still very active at Twin Lakes and in these fields at night. As I have written here in the past (“Why Twin Lakes Matters,” Daily Camera 2016) it is not only the fields directly that are important.

They also provide a mostly unobstructed and unique corridor for wildlife movement that connect the biodiverse Twin Lakes open space to Boulder Creek-adjacent protected areas such as Walden and Sandhill wildlife areas and beyond. As shown in the scientific literature, wildlife corridors need to be about 1,000 feet wide and have minimal human disturbance in the form of light pollution and habitat disturbance.

The Twin Lakes fields meet these requirements, which is rare in an urban environment. Although both the city and county open space departments have done an excellent job of providing safe spaces for wildlife living in our eastern grassland and riparian areas, there is a clear and much-needed effort toward corridor connectivity of these land holdings to allow for wildlife movements among them. Designating the Twin Lakes fields as protected areas will continue to provide a long-needed first step in this process. Indeed, it can be a model for future land purchases that connect established open space areas, a proven method for increasing and sustaining regional biodiversity.

We are in a global mass extinction event that will have dire consequences for humanity in the coming decades. Spillover from wildlife species of coronaviruses such as COVID-19 are increasing in virulence, intensity and commonality. This is not happening in a vacuum and is the direct result of human destruction of global biodiversity at an accelerating and unrelenting rate.

If COVID-19 is not a call to action to change our ways by reducing consumption and destruction of natural systems, I do not know what will be. I can only say that after being a professional ecologist for more than 30 years, the scientific literature of the last decade is replete with models predicting human extinction in decades, not centuries, if we do not rapidly change our ways. Although this may seem hyperbolic and unrealistic, COVID-19 has shown how unstable and easily collapsible our human-centric, artificial world is.

As Jane Goodall wisely wrote, “Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall we be saved.”

Rick Adams lives in Boulder and is a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley.

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