Find the latest updates on all the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Counci's projects

Melting sea ice, rising sea levels, warming temperatures, deforestation, habitat loss—climate change is touching nearly every corner of our planet. In the face of ever increasing climate change related disasters, loss of life, and refugees, it can feel difficult to feel optimistic for the future health of our planet. Guilt, shame, apathy, and numbness may follow, which unfortunately can bring society away from taking the steps needed, no matter how small, towards addressing climate change.

In Family Survival Guide for Our Changing Climate, author Sandi Sturm empowers readers to resign their feelings of helplessness by incorporating some, or all, of her 52 actions to take against climate change. These actions are logical, easy to adopt, economical, and take minimal time and effort to implement. Sturm claims that by following these eco tips loyally, families and individuals can reduce their carbon footprint by up to 50%. No one of us should take on the entire weight of the climate crisis, but each of us should be routinely evaluating our day to day activities so to limit our impact on the planet.

While Sturm’s guide offers a variety of actions to take, SLVEC has selected five of her suggestions that we challenge readers to adopt before the end of 2021. For the complete list of eco tips and to learn more, order Family Survival Guide for Our Changing Climate.

1) Participate in Zero Waste Dining

Sturm reminds us that while eating out may be convenient, it can also be extremely wasteful. She reports in her chapter “Food on the Go” that to-go boxes can rarely be recycled. Not to mention, carryout or leftover packaging often comes with disposable cutlery, napkins, and plastic bags. With statistics concluding that the average American eats out several times a week, this waste has a huge impact on our society’s carbon footprint.

Luckily, there is a super simple solution to this waste issue. Creating a “to-go kit” Sturm offers, is the perfect way to continue your dining adventures without generating unnecessary waste. Each time you visit a restaurant or café, make sure you come prepared with a bag that has your own reusable Tupperware container, utensils, and napkins. Even better, keep metal straws or coffee mugs in case you want to order a to-go drink. If you want to order take-out, order your food at the restaurant, and transfer the food from the plate to your containers. This will satisfy their Food Safety Regulations. The same can be done for leftovers. Keep this to-go kit in your car so you always have it with you!

2) Make Your Laundry Eco-Clean.

Large sums of water, electricity, and toxic ingredients are often used for the average load of laundry. For example, a typical washer may use up to 40 gallons of water per load and many brands of detergents and dryer sheets contain chemicals that pollute our environment and bodies. Some of Sturm’s suggestions for making laundry a more eco-minded chore include: buying biodegradable, plant -based detergents that do not contain harmful chemicals, exchanging dryer sheets for wool dryer balls, drying clothes on a rack or clothesline, only washing when you have a full load of laundry, ringing out clothes before putting them in the dryer to reduce drying time, washing multiple loads of laundry in the same day, using low washing temperatures when possible, and investing in an energy efficient washer and dryer.

3) Stop Idling Your Car

Convenience again often comes with unnecessary waste. Sturm reports that idling cars waste around 3 billion gallons of fuel each year. She cites the US Department of Energy with a shocking statement: “eliminating the idling of car engines would be equivalent of taking 5 million vehicles off the roads.” Sturm urges readers to forego drive-through banks, restaurants, etc. and instead turn off your vehicle, and go inside for services. For those of you tracking your daily steps, this is a great way to get more exercise too!

4) Recycle Your Electronics

When electronics break or simply become too old and out of date for use, disposing of them can be tricky. Sadly, many of us do not take the time to properly dispose of our unwanted electronics, which produces hazardous e-waste. Sturm claims that of the nearly 42 million tons of e-waste that is produced, only about 10-40% is appropriately discarded. Sturm urges readers to always find a recycling center that accepts your electronics, opposed to throwing them away. She also suggests the purchase and use of more durable, long-lasting technologies, donating unwanted technology that still work to charities or groups in need, or buying refurbished/used electronics when possible. Visit SLVEC’s blog to see how/where to recycle e-waste in the San Luis Valley.

5) Unplug after Use

Many of us think that power usage stops upon turning off an appliance or device that requires electricity to function. However, even when an object is turned off but still plugged in, it is pulling some amount of power. Sturm shares that “About a quarter of all residential energy consumption is used on devices in idle power mode…” As a result, it could save us money and limit energy waste if we simply unplugged electronics, lights, appliances, etc. that are not in use. Exceptions of course apply to objects that are used frequently, such as refrigerators and ovens.

Throughout all of Sandi Sturm’s eco-tips a common theme is felt: Reduce consumption and reduce waste. Many of our daily behaviors can be gently modified to have a big impact on reducing our carbon footprint. Adopting sustainable practices can be affordable, fun, and even build community. Furthermore, these strategies can be empowering, bringing a much needed feeling of optimism and action forward as we all address climate change together.

34 views0 comments

This fall, keep wildlife and your property safe; be BearAware!
This article was first published in the October 2021 edition of the Crestone Eagle, under the title "The Curious Life of Hibernating Black Bears: Questions for our Sleepy Neighbors."

As we endure months of piled up snow and below freezing nights, many of us naturally adopt a slower pace and richer diet during the winter. Our high-altitude neighbor, the black bear, takes this notion to the extreme. Inactive for nearly half of the year, bears are some of the most iconic species to hibernate in North America. Their impressive winter behavior brings up many questions for us non-hibernators:

How and why do bears hibernate?
How can humans support them in doing so?
How might climate change impact black bears?
Did Humans ever hibernate?

What Happens During Hibernation?

In late October to early/mid-November, black bears begin to settle into their winter homes, AKA their hibernacula (dens, caves, or hollowed out trees filled with insulating leaves). While winter temperatures in Colorado are often harsh, bears do not hibernate because they are cold, but because their food supply is drastically reduced. To cope with months of hunger, bears are programmed to conserve energy by entering a state of extremely limited activity and notable physiological transformation, called torpor.

According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, during hibernation a black bear’s metabolism and heart rate reduces by up to 50-60%, they lose 20-30% of their body weight, and their body temperature drops by around 12 degrees F. Furthermore, food, water, and therefore, waste elimination, are nearly completely halted for up to 200 days, until they reenter the world in March or April.

Many of us might think that bears sleep continuously without arousal for months. However, bears can awaken at any point during the winter months, and many researchers argue that they must do so to avoid sleep deprivation. For this reason, some biologists argue that bears are not true hibernators, as they can be easily awoken. For example, pregnant bears break torpor to give birth to their cubs, and later to nurse and tend to them. Threats or alarms may also be reason for a black bear to stir about during their long rest, and even a brief meander out of their dens is not unheard of.

What Supports Healthy Hibernation?

Wild rose hips along North Crestone trail, a favorite food for black bears.

Key to a successful hibernation is food. In order to produce adequate fat reserves, black bears need to eat around 20,000 calories a day in the months leading up to hibernation. This massive caloric intake is similar in quantity to eating 30 Burger King Whoppers a day, reports Bear Smart Durango. Amazingly, most of these calories will be derived from vegetation: fruits, berries, nuts, and grasses. Insects and the scavenged remains of wildlife provide additional nutrition, about 10% of the diet. In late summer/early fall, black bears may spend up to 20 hours each day foraging for their favorite foods, including elderberry, rose hips, serviceberry, chokecherry, and acorns. If available, black bears will consume up to 30 pounds of

berries and acorns in a day alone before

beginning hibernation. It is no wonder that a bear preparing to hibernate may gain 3 to 4 pounds of fat each day.

Unfortunately, if there is not enough natural food selection for bears during early fall, they will seek food elsewhere. With powerful noses that can pick up scents miles away, the temptation of fast calories found within human communities often brings bears to the trashcans, bird feeders, doorsteps, gardens, chicken coops, or cars of human residents. Once bears grow accustomed to these easy feeding opportunities, they will often return again and again, abandoning their search for natural foods found within their foraging habitats.

As many locals know, bears who have become accustomed to human foods can cause extreme property damage, and tragically be killed by wildlife officials, residents, or vehicles. To both protect your property and the lives of this hungry native species, help bears stick to their natural diet. This month, and into November, be sure that your trash is secured in a bear-resistant container and put out only right before pick up, that food products are not left in cars or by open windows, that bird feeders are empty, and that livestock, compost piles, and gardens are bear-proofed. In simple terms, keep strong odors to a minimum, especially during the months of April-November when bears are most active.

How will Climate Change Impact Bear Hibernation?

Like all wildlife, bears are closely attuned to changes in temperature. If estimates are correct, average temperatures in the Rocky Mountains will rise in the coming years. This will trigger bears to hibernate for shorter periods, meaning they enter their hibernacula late and exit early. After conducting a study on 131 black bear dens near Durango, CO, biologist Heather Johnson found that “For every 1°C increase in winter minimum temperatures, bears reduced hibernation by an average of 6 days.” She further warned that by 2050, temperature increases could shorten black bear hibernation by 15 to 40 days.

This disruption in a bear’s biological rhythm could unfortunately cause both imbalances in the surrounding food chain and ecosystem, as well as increased human-bear conflicts. If bears become active for more weeks of the year, their hunger may send them onto the doorsteps of human residents with greater frequency. An increase in property damage, ecosystem disruption, and bear mortality may result.

Johnson explains that in addition to warming temperatures, black bear hibernation can be shortened by the availability of “anthropogenic subsidies” such as those from your trashcan.

Some experts even suggest that if a bear detects that there is a consistent food source year-round, they will forgo hibernation all together. A 2019 tweet by Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported: “It’s bitterly cold with snow but urban bears are not in hibernation. They may stay active all winter if they have a reliable source of food. Of course, that source is usually human garbage cans…” Consider this a further incentive to be Bear Aware.

Did Humans ever Hibernate?

Bears are not the only species to hibernate. In fact, many species do in one way or another, including some turtles, skunks, groundhogs, bats, bumblebees, snakes, and frogs to name a few. It is even possible that humans once hibernated.

Early humans, living during extreme glaciation periods, may have hibernated suggests a 2020 study by paleoanthropologists Juan-Luis Arsuaga and Antonis Bartsiokas. Dozens of fossilized human skeletons, and an abundance of teeth and shattered bone, rest in the Spanish cave called Sima de los Huesos (The Pit of Bones), making it one of the top hotspots for archeological discovery.

After studying the contents at Sima de los Huesos, Arsuaga and Bartsiokas discovered that many of the cave’s fossilized remains showed signs of seasonal lesions, injuries, delayed/erratic growth, and deficiencies that are similarly found in animals that hibernate. Humans living over 400,000 years ago in this part of the planet, the researchers concluded, likely slept for long stretches of time and slowed their metabolisms so to survive treacherous winters that offered little to know relief from hunger and cold. The study, “Hibernation in hominins from Atapuerca, Spain half a million years ago” can be further reviewed in the prehistoric science journal: L’Anthropologie

While humans do not hibernate today, we can still support this important behavior in other animals. Black bears offer a variety of ecosystem services and deserve to be protected. Do your part this fall by ensuring that your property is bear-proofed and does not attract wildlife.

Information on black bears sourced from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Bear Smart Durango, and the Journal of Applied Ecology.

47 views0 comments

Updated: Oct 21

16 views0 comments