Conserving an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of resources
Keep going at the rate we are, and we’ll destroy much that can never be recovered.

Story by Kathryn R. Burke
All content © San Juan Publishing Group, Inc, All rights reserved.

03sustainabilityLand, water, our food supply, wildlife, and fragile ecosystems, all depend on our taking care of the precious resources while we still have them. Keep going at the rate we are, and we’ll destroy much that can never be recovered.

WATER. Just look at some of our major dams, like Lake Mead in Nevada. According to Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego, California, “If human induced climate change and water usage continues at the present rate, or even slower…the lake could go dry by 2021.” That lake and its dam are part of a series of dams, which collectively provide electricity to most of the western half of our country.

The Environmental News Network notes that much of the southwest “could soon face a devastating water crisis.” Not only are we warming the planet through poor choices in energy consumption, we’re consuming way too much water for personal, agricultural (60-70%) and industrial use. If we don’t adopt some serious conservation measures, we’re facing serious drought.

Moreover, most of that water comes from the Colorado River. According to the US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, , theColorado River Basin is receiving less and less of it’s average precipitation. This spells trouble not only for Coloradoans, but for everyone in the Southwest.

ECOSYSTEMS. Water loss isn’t the only problem. Disappearing ecosystems mean disappearing vegetation, less food for animals, more expensive food for humans. Rainforests are shrinking, and as they are a source for certain medicinal substances, driving up those prices due to increasing scarcity. Housing developments are eating up agricultural and wildland, with a resultant loss of wildlife.

Look what our voracious need to consume more and more fossil fuels has done: the oil spill in the Gulf is one of the worst human-caused natural disasters to have ever affected our planet. And no one really knows the long-range effects.

WILDLIFE. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supports an Endangered Species Program. Their mission is to “recover imperiled plant and animal species, while promoting the voluntary conservation of other wildlife.” An admirable goal, but “voluntary” is a big word when worldwide nearly-destitute farmers need land, and trophey hunters pay to hunt these vunerable animals. ESA tries though, to get people to obtain permits for conducting activities that might be harmful to wildlife. But the list of disappearing species contiues to grow.

Probably one of our biggest transgressions has been cutting down forests to build houses, and building houses where wildlands once prevailed. Then, when the land is cleared, putting in “parks” with non-native plants that do not invite the return of their original wildlife inhabitants. One of our favorites is in southern Calfornia where a resort replaced a natural bird habitat. The owners put up a sign: “Tern Beach 5 mi. South.” Presumably the migrating birds slow down long eough to read it.

Another good example of this is the spreading coyote population in southern California. Once living in the wild, they now live in drainage ditches and forage for food in back yards. In Colorado, the loss of natural habitat for bears has caused them to come into populous areas like Aspen, where they help themselves to garbage, and sometimes snatch food of the tables at outdoor cafes.

TOURISM. Tourism has played a major role in destroying ecosystems. Only recently as it been suggested that you “take only pictures and leave only footprints.” Unfortunately, vandals, or “collectors” made off with millions of artifacts from ancestral sites, climbing over structures, tumbling fragile walls, digging for whatever they could find. When they found nothing, they took the rocks. Before the Antiquities Act took steps to stop the commericalism and vandalism, enterprisng vandals destroyed much of Mesa Verde.

Before rules were enforced to “Stay on marked trails,” ATVers and dirt bikers ripped up tundra that took millions of years to develop, destroying it in seconds. Before rules were enforced to “Stay on marked trails,” ATVers and dirt bikers ripped up tundra that took millions of years to develop, destroying it in seconds. Campers left garbage and human refuse in once-pristine campsites.

Today, we have a new view of tourism. Sustainable Tourism, or Responsible Tourism, a new industry commited to minimizing negative economic, environmental, and social impacts by practicing responsible behavior. In otherwords, be a good guest when you visit, and don’t steal the towels when you leave, or in this case, don’t pick the flowers, don’t feed the deer (or bears, or other wildlife), stay on marked trails, and don’t use the clear mountain stream for a bathroom.

An entire industry has developed around this philosophy. Sustainable Travel International (STI) supports “green travel” and promotes travel that “leaves the world a better place.” STI promotes “responsible travel and ecotourism, supporting sustainable development and helping travelers protect the cultures and environments they visit.”

Colorado has it’s own guide to Ecotours, hoping visitors will enjoy a “green” vacation. These tours not only protect and sustain natural resources, but promote “green” locations as well. Lodging, restaurants, cultural attractions go green from the ground up through the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification Program fostered by the U.S. Green Building Council.Road Travel (the new name for the former Elderhostel) features worldwide educational travel. Although not all are specifically oriented to ecotourism, by their very nature educational tours help preserve resources.

Photography by Kathryn R. Burke
Wind River Canyon, Wyoming. It’s a remote region, but we found a collection of plastic soda bottles, fast food wrappers, and junk alongside the river.
Mountain Goats take charge of the road near Ouray, Colorado. They hog the road, and we just wait. Took this shot through the windshield.
Lake Louise, Canadian Rockies. The glacier, feeding this lake, is melting. In a few years, it will ge gone completely.
Aztec Ruins, Aztec NM. Like it’s more famous neighbor, Mesa Verde, until these ruins were protected by the Antiquities Act, vandals took away many of its artifacts.
Mama and baby deer are running out of room as more houses are being built in western Colorado.

Ed.: Sustainability is a big word, and it’s finally getting the attention it needs and deserves. We’d best heed it, or we’ll soon be out of much of what we depend on for comfortable living. And if we keep using up our resources, with no thought to preserving them, sustainability will mean suvivablity, and that’s not the future we want to build for our children. If you doubt the need to keep nature natural, read Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, regarded as one of the finest nature narratives in American history.

References & Additional Links
Lake Mead Could be Dry by 2021
Water Scarcity in American Southwest Gets Serious
Endangered Species Coalition 
Antiquities Act, National Park Service. Vandalism 1890-1906
” What is sustainability?” Wikipedia
Disappearing Wildlife, Natonal Geograpic Videos
Oil Spill: Wildlife Crisis
U.S. Green Building Council