I recently returned from Denver, where the temperatures were soaring far above average. My flight from Tucson gave me a bird’s-eye view of the fires impacting the communities surrounding Durango—further evidence of climate change in the West. We see these changes not only in rising temperatures, but in more extreme weather events, more frequent and severe forest fires, reduced snow pack, and a premature change of the seasons. This spells trouble for the environment and for communities who have seasonal based economies.
At Sonoran Institute, we know how critical climate change is for the planet. Across our geography, we are dedicated to helping people and communities combat the effects and face the challenges it brings. However, today I want to talk about a different kind change. We can get bogged down in the barrage of negativity that we are faced with daily, but if you take a good look around, you can see positive changes everywhere. Today, I want to focus less on the storms raging around us and more on the silver linings.
We’re fostering positive change in Colorado. We recently received significant funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and were honored to have Becky Mitchell, CWCB Director, speak at a Sonoran Institute reception in Denver. Becky was eloquent in her explanation of how Sonoran Institute’s work is advancing the goals of the Colorado Water Plan. That same weekend we were joined by John Stulp, Special Policy Advisor to the Colorado Governor, who spoke about the unique challenges Colorado communities face and the ways Sonoran Institute’s work is helping those communities rise to the challenge. One of those ways is through our Resilient Communities and Growing Water Smart workshops. In the last year alone, our workshops have trained over forty community representatives and impacted the lives of over 500,000 Coloradans. We’re providing the tools necessary to create a water smart future for communities across the basin, for generations to come.
As I walked through downtown Denver on my way to REI, I was struck by a simple truth. Change takes time and revitalization does not happen overnight. The vision that produced Confluence Park, one of Denver’s most loved and most frequented recreation areas, was over forty years in the making. Watching families play, splashing in the revitalized South Platte River, I knew without a doubt that someday back home in Tucson I will enjoy a similar scene along the Santa Cruz River. I also know that like Confluence Park, this change will not happen without a great deal of dedication, effort, and above all persistence.
Sometimes in order to be the change people need to see the change. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Through art, people can make an authentic connection to the natural resources we work so hard to protect. Sonoran Institute recently participated in a collaborative art project celebrating the return of the endangered Gila Topminnow, a native fish that hadn’t been seen in the Tucson stretch of the Santa Cruz River for over 70 years. Artistic expression is a way to communicate our values, and document what’s important not only for the artist but for the community as a whole.
Our restoration sites in Mexico are a place where people come together to celebrate the natural environment. They are also a place where you can see firsthand that sometimes even small victories can have enormous implications. This evidence is demonstrated rather simply by monitoring the presence of birds because they’re often an indicator of larger changes. Sonoran Institute’s very own Karen Schlatter goes into wonderful detail in a recent op-ed featured in Mother Nature Network. If bird populations are increasing it’s a sign that their habitat is healthy. In recent years we’ve seen bird diversity in our Baja California restoration sites improve by nearly 2,000%! Now that is something to celebrate.
We recognize the challenges that come with change and offer solutions to inspire individuals and communities to work together. We build consensus. We are always looking toward the future and taking the necessary steps to move forward. It is undeniable that the world around us is changing. After all, change is inevitable. Some things need to change. Like the way we manage resources, and how we interact with the environment and build our communities. Some things don’t need to change, like the smell after the first summer rain in the desert, the frenetic dance of the hummingbird, the wonder of the night-blooming cereus, and honestly, Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz ice cream is perfect just the way it is.
All change must be faced head on. At Sonoran Institute, we don’t shy away from challenges—we tackle them. We also don’t forget to celebrate our victories, and we take the time to make art, to dance, and to sing with the birds. That makes it easy to remember why we’re in this for the long haul.
Blog Post By: Stephanie Sklar, Sonoran Institute
Stephanie Sklar is the Chief Executive Officer of the Sonoran Institute.