Let’s talk: Between Mountains and Desert

Every locale, from the forests of Siberia to the concrete canyons of New York, has environmental issues — things like water and air quality, endangered species, toxic chemicals and human encroachment on what once was wild.

But few areas have quite the array of environmental concerns and conflicts as the Rocky Mountain West and western Colorado in particular.

At Colorado Mesa University this evening, The Daily Sentinel will host a panel of environmental experts, including Sentinel environmental reporter Matthew Berger, to discuss many of those issues.

The symposium is called “Between Mountains and Desert: Environmental Issues in Western Colorado.” It will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the CMU Ballroom in the University Center. It is free and open to the public.

What makes the Western Slope different than most regions when it comes to the environment is the unique convergence of so many political and physical issues.

First, of course, the landscape is spectacular. It has long drawn people here to live, visit, play and produce.

Much of that awe-inspiring landscape resides on federal land. And that often leads to political disputes among federal, state and local officials, along with representatives of various groups that have a stake in how those lands are managed.

Additionally, the Western Slope is home to the headwaters of the Colorado River, arguably the most important river in the West. It is certainly the most litigated and the source of ceaseless political activity. Because it drains such a large land mass with relatively small amounts of water, and because it is one of the few U.S. rivers that flow into another country, every dam, sewer plant, irrigation ditch and industrial user has an impact on the river.

On top of that, this part of paradise is ground zero for energy development. For the past decade or so, natural gas production has been the most notable regional energy activity. It will continue to be important to this region, but it is not unique to the Western Slope. However, techniques now being used in many other locations, such as directional drilling and modern hydraulic fracturing, were developed or improved upon here.

But, almost nowhere else can one also find the multitude of other energy sources that includes high-quality coal, conventional oil, oil shale, uranium for nuclear energy and large-scale hydroelectric facilities. It is also a primary region for research on solar power, geothermal energy, wind generation and more.

Drought and wildfire, pine beetles and tamarisk invasion, diminishing deer herds and growing confrontations between wildlife and humans, agriculture and recreation — all of those are among the diversity of issues and dilemmas encountered by those interested in the environment of the Western Slope.

We hope many of those who are so interested will join us this evening at CMU for the discussion of “Between Mountains and Desert.”


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