Lawmaker, scientists focus on effects of climate change in Colorado

National Wildlife Federation roundtable discussion with Sen. Mark Udall looks at the impacts of climate change on Colorado’s fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation and the steps to take

04-22-2014 // Judith Kohler

Big Horn RamSen. Mark Udall of Colorado and two scientists who participated in a panel discussion hosted by the National Wildlife Federation Monday agreed that climate change is happening now, is "one of the defining issues of our time" and that we can take steps to reduce the effects and build toward a more sustainable future.

"Make no mistake about it, climate change is one of the defining issues of our time and how we handle it will have profound implications for the plant and future generations," Udall said. "That’s why I’ve taken an all-hands-on-deck approach."

Udall, Colorado’s senior senator, said his approach includes promoting solar projects, domestic production of wind turbines and the jobs that go with that, energy efficiency, legislation giving consumers more information about their energy use and establishing a national standard for the amount of energy produced from renewable sources.

Udall was joined by Dr. David Anderson, a climatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Climatic Data Center, and Dr. Leigh Welling, climate change coordinator for the National Park Service.

The panel was held at a key moment as the Environmental Protection Agency is acting on climate by putting the final touches on limits to carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants – the country’s largest source of the carbon pollution fueling climate change. The first-ever federal standards to cut carbon pollution from new power plants are on track and new safeguards for carbon pollution from existing power plants are expected in June.

Colorado, like other places, is already feeling the effects of a changing climate, from drought, to flooding last year that devastated big swaths of the foothills and plains near Denver, to wildfires and early snowmelt.

"Some of Colorado’s most iconic species—from bighorn sheep to sandhill cranes to cutthroat trout – are seeing their homes transformed by rapid climate change," said Ann Morgan, NWF Rocky Mountain Regional Executive Director. "Climate disruption is the most serious threat facing America’s wildlife and requires action and cooperation at the local, state and federal levels."

Colorado is well known for its spectacular mountains, wide open high plains, fish, wildlife and outdoor lifestyle that draw tourists worldwide and attract new residents and businesses. Hunting, fishing and other wildlife-related recreation contribute nearly $3 billion annually to the Colorado economy. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that outdoor recreation produces $13.2 billion in consumer spending yearly in Colorado and generates $4.2 billion in wages. However, climate change jeopardizes Colorado’s economy and the health, habitat, and food and water supplies of fish and wildlife.

As Colorado has been repeatedly harmed by climate-related wildfires, drought and extreme weather in recent years,  Udall has been a key advocate in Congress on advancing policies to confront climate change and recently joined the Senate’s Climate Action Task Force aimed at bringing more attention to the issue. 

Key steps needed to stem climate change:

  1. Address the underlying cause and cut industrial carbon pollution.
  2. Transition to cleaner, more secure sources of energy like offshore wind, solar power and next-generation biofuels and avoid polluting energy like coal and tar sands oil.
  3. Safeguard wildlife and their habitats by promoting climate-smart approaches to conservation.
  4. Take climate change into account in managing wildlife and plants.
  5. Help communities prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, more extreme weather and more severe droughts.


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