Welcome to Fort Collins and Northern Colorado, where the Rocky Mountains meet the Great Plains. Here in Colorado, water flows off both sides of the Continental Divide toward both the East and West Coasts, so, one way or another, our land-locked state affects everyone’s life across the U.S. We hope this year’s meeting fosters your own connections among lofty peaks and open views.
This conference represents a homecoming of sorts for SEJ. Our first annual conference, in 1991, occurred just down the road in Boulder. Now, as SEJ returns to Colorado, environmental matters that are front and center in this “purplish” state are becoming prominent presidential campaign issues leading into the 2020 election. Many presumptive candidates are actively addressing climate change, energy policy and biodiversity conservation. (Hopefully, some of them will be with us in “FoCo.”)
Here in Colorado, we’re addressing many of the challenges that communities throughout the country are experiencing. Since that first SEJ conference 28 years ago, the population of Colorado’s Front Range, stretching from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins, has exploded, adding millions of new residents. This growth challenges communities and resource managers who must balance demands for more development and for securing human and environmental health. This impossible juggling act is playing out in many ways, as you’ll see and learn. Some newly built neighborhoods butt right up against oil and gas wells amidst the state’s drilling frenzy; a half-dozen major dam and water-development projects are under consideration; the surging numbers of residents in the area are overtaxing open spaces — essentially loving nature to death; in the last decade megafires and floods have raged through communities, destroying lives and homes and costing millions of dollars.
Like everywhere, this level of economic growth and expanded resource extraction can often conflict with environmental health and sustainability goals.
In response to these challenges, Colorado is also forging ahead with innovation and collaborative solutions to both local and global problems. The state, communities, utilities and research institutions and universities — including our host, Colorado State University — are leading the way on renewable energy research and development, water conservation and management, and climate science and policy around the world. Federal research and management agencies — with offices in Fort Collins and along Colorado’s Front Range — are also leaders in advancing environmental science, research and policy. Further, many rapidly growing towns and cities are aggressively protecting natural areas to preserve wildlife habitat, working farmlands and open spaces.
All these dizzying developments make Fort Collins an ideal place for this year’s conference, and for examining the delicate relationships between people and the environment. This year’s conference focuses on climate change, energy development, water scarcity and politics, public lands management, agriculture and social justice (and injustice). These are themes and topics central to this region — and to the rest of the country and the world.
Conference workshops will offer attendees opportunities to learn reporting tools and skills for covering climate change, public lands and tribal affairs. Tours will take you from the Continental Divide to the plains, from forests and rivers to feedlots and former nuclear-weapons plants and into some of the most well-known environmental-research facilities in the world.
Did we forget to mention the craft beers and bicycle lanes and trails? And Rocky Mountain oysters? Also, remember that a “Rocky Mountain high” is not just the (legal) cannabis one, it’s also the mile-high headache you’ll get if you don’t drink plenty of water when traveling from sea level. So, remember to hydrate, so you can drink up and, well… whatever.
Welcome to Colorado!
SEJ’s 2019 Conference Chairs:
Susan Moran, freelance print journalist; producer and host of KGNU’s science show, “How On Earth”
Joshua Zaffos, correspondent, High Country News, and environmental communications instructor, Colorado State University