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Winter moonset over the Flatirons. (Stephen Jones courtesy photo)
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In January we love to go hiking in the foothills and search for early signs of spring, such as the first blooming Easter daisies, courting foxes, or singing meadowlarks.

But this year a shadow hangs over even these joyful activities. It isn’t just the virus. We see nature under assault both here and around the world and often feel helpless to do much about it.

In Boulder County the number of human visitors to our protected lands has more than doubled as workspaces, restaurants and gyms have shut down. Local agencies have felt compelled to spend more funds managing recreation, leaving fewer resources for studying and protecting wildlife. Open space management plans are calling for larger parking lots, wider trails, and smaller buffers around raptor nests.

As human recreational impacts increase and protections for wild areas diminish, species continue to vanish from Boulder County: white-tailed jackrabbits and nesting lark buntings on the plains, northern goshawks in the foothills, boreal toads in the mountains.

An adult coyote hunts mice on Eldorado Mountain. (Stephen Jones courtesy photo)

Nationally, the federal government has used the COVID crisis as an excuse to eliminate controls on chemical dumping, toxic flaring of methane gas, and wanton disturbance of nesting birds. The Endangered Species Act and federal wetlands acts have been gutted. Formally protected lands are being filled with oil wells and strip mines.

Internationally, the decline in revenues from ecotourism has prompted governments to weaken controls on clearcutting of forests, open pit mining, offshore oil extraction, and commercial fishing. In Indonesia, the last remaining wild orangutan populations are under siege as multinational corporations clear-cut dwindling remnants of tropical forest. The cash-starved government of Brazil has encouraged annual burning and cutting of millions of acres of Amazon rain forest.

Most of the world’s coral reefs are expected to disappear within the next few decades, ravaged by warming waters and acidification, weakened by our sustained assault on the ocean — sometimes committed with explosives. With most of the top predatory fish already gone, the delicate balance of ocean food chains continues to unravel.

Meanwhile, the public discourse in this country appears to have shifted away from how to protect and nourish the environment to whether environmental conservation should even be a priority. Our local newspapers have replaced syndicated columns by thoughtful conservatives with Trumpist screeds denying the validity of climate science and asserting that the coronavirus is no big deal.

For all of us who have experienced the trauma of raging wildfires or have lost loved ones to COVID, these narcissistic and anti-scientific diatribes are devastating.

So what do we do? We’ll continue to go out on winter mornings looking for those first signs of burgeoning life. We’ll continue to advocate for the rights of all beings to live and thrive, while supporting community-based conservation organizations.

We’ll avoid consuming foods whose production places other beings and entire ecosystems in peril. We will distance ourselves from institutions or organizations that provide platforms for those who reject science and compassion.

And in keeping with words attributed to Chief Seattle, we’ll try each day to walk softly, keep our eyes open, and “Love the Earth as a newborn loves her mother’s heartbeat.”

Stephen Jones and Ruth Carol Cushman are authors of Wild Boulder County and Peterson Field Guide to the North American Prairie. This will be the last Nature Almanac as Stephen Jones steps away. The monthly Nature Walk column will continue to appear on the Get Out page.

Other January events

  • Early Easter daisies and spring beauties unfurl in foothills canyons.
  • Golden eagles refurbish giant stick nests on foothills cliffs.
  • Courting coyotes and red foxes dance circles in the snow.

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