Category Archives: Boulder

Biodiversity in Boulder County Colorado

We all know that loss of biodiversity is one of the big problems with today’s global agricultural system. I’m lucky that my county which is part of the Rocky Mountains has a lot of open space and wild space, so there is a lot of diversity left even though the urban areas are encroaching badly on this beautiful place. The three photos below were all taken recently here in my county. Let’s celebrate and strive for biodiversity as we set farm policies around the world… Please.

A moth on a doorstep.
Photo by Gordon Hardman.


Owlets.
Photo by Bodo Blaczak.

Cooper’s Hawk “Hawklets”.
Photo by Alek Komarnitsky.

Celebrating Plants at the University of Colorado’s Greenhouses

“Every plant has a story.” —-Tom Lemieux

The University of Colorado operates a few greenhouses on a shoestring budget, categorizing them under the “shop” category, enough to earn them once a month cleanings, but even so, they contain an invaluable resource of genetic wisdom from the global plant world.

Run under the guidance of a man whose muse is plants, which is obvious from the first moment that you meet him, Tom Lemieux grew up in Maine and California, and studied horticulture at Berkely. Lemieux has traveled the world on plant expeditions and he believes in starting plants from seeds, which means that many of the exotic species in CU’s “Greenhouse Facilities and Collections” have been propogated by him and his staff from seeds. One plant they started from seed was a date palm, from a bag of dates purchased at Costco, for example.

Last month the greenhouses were open to a small number of community members for a tour and I jumped at the chance.

Lemieux began our introduction to plant appreciation by talking about “convergent evolution” in plants. He demonstrated the concept with a cart full of unique species from the plant world.
Convergent evolution is the term used to describe how very different plant species can evolve into very similar plants in an attempt to survive in similar conditions through adaptation. (See the photo at left to help understand the concept.) It is a fascinating subject that demonstrates to us the resilience of life itself.

In the study of plants we are able to see firsthand Nature’s wisdom, its creativity, its beauty, and even, its sense of humor. We marvel at Phi, the golden proportion found in the plant world. And, we realize that our very existence as homo sapiens requires plants to clothe us, to feed us, to medicate us (or alter our minds, if you will), to shade us, to shelter us, and to help us find solutions for engineering problems – through biomicry.

When Lemieux gives school children tours of the greenhouses, he challenges them to try to go two weeks without using plants, a challenge which makes them think about how much they rely upon the plant world for survival.

The photos below, which I took during the greenhouse tour, will show you some of the marvels that are housed in CU’s plant collections, and they are a sampling of the plants which have evolved and exist on our amazing blue marble.


Natural curls


Cactus with white fuzz and white flowers


Star shapes


An unusual plant with an unusual trunk


A ball shape


This is an example of an ant plant, which has large holes in its codex base.


This is a pair of Cuban Pako Palms, which are the same ages, and demonstrates how much better the plant thrives in the ground, versus a container.


A provocative smelling flower seeking to entice insects inside


Stripes


Exotic


A drama queen of color contrasts: green, pink, and purple!


Pieces of this plant, Lycopodium huperzin (from China), have been requested by a lab in another state for Alzheimer’s drug research, according to Lemieux.


Not only does this plant have fascinating spots and dots for adornment, it has red undersides to its leaves.


Interesting texture with bumps that look like reading braille – is this plant’s hallmark.


What kind of environment required this shape for survival? There are both leaf succulents, and stem succulents in the plant kingdom.


There were many plants with stickers in CU’s plant collection.

I took far more photos than this, and felt like a kid in a candy store while snapping one shot after another following the tour.

How noble is the plant kingdom!

A favorite Willa Cather quote of mine is, “I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” What an enviable philosophy of life a plant has compared to we humans who are never satisfied with anything at all, always chasing after that which we think would make us happier or more comfortable instead of just blooming in place. Indeed, every plant has its story, but you are going to have to study it to learn what its story is, and even then, you’ll never know all of its secrets.

Colorado Farmers Hit by Flood Could Use Your Help

Readers,
A friend of mine is involved in the efforts to help out the small farmers here in Boulder County and other northeastern Colorado counties following the devastating flood which happened two months ago.

Here is a brief summary from him about this most worthy cause:

Local Food Shift Group (a Boulder Colorado-based non-profit) has partnered with the Community Foundation of Boulder County to create the Front Range Farm Relief Fund (see video below).

The Fund will provide grants to small farmers, ranchers, growers, beekeepers and other food businesses in ten front range and northeastern Colorado counties hit hard by the “biblical” flood that hit the area in the middle of September.

Applicants to the fund are small, diverse farmers, ranchers, growers and food producers who do not qualify for federal flood insurance, FEMA benefits or other government aid programs.

Please learn more at: Front Range Farm Relief Fund, and pitch in if you’re able.

Thanks!

………………………………. TO DONATE ……………………………….

By clicking the link below, you will be directed to the Community Foundation’s secure donation site, where you can select the amount you want to give and your payment method.

Select “Front Range Farm Relief Fund” from the pulldown menu under “I want my donation to be designated toward:” to apply your donation toward this fund.

Thank you for your support!

Click here to donate now.

Or make a check payable to Front Range Farm Relief Fund, and mail it to:

The Community Foundation
1123 Spruce Street
Boulder CO 80302

World Food Day: Eat and Act Like a Coloradan

Today is named “World Food Day” and numerous online and hard copy publishers have their version of a story about wiping out hunger, what is wrong with the food and agriculture system, and how to fix it.

This is becoming a well-worn story, now that everyone’s come to the realization that there is more than enough food in the world and that hunger stems from other problems such as political mismanagement, economics of individuals and individual nations, waste, storage, distribution, infrastructure deficiencies, requires regional solutions, and the like.

In addition, each day more and more NGOs and institutions announce that they’ve set out to solve the “how to feed the world in the future” problem, as their newly appointed goal, which, while this is a noble cause for those of us suffering of plenty, often the wheel just ends up getting reinvented.

So, I shall go against the mainstream approach to this Food Day 2013 by talking about obesity, which is equally unhealthy for humans.

Since obesity is the number one food problem in America and much of the world, my Boulderite version of World Food Day is to present a newly released book explaining why Coloradans are consistently the thinnest in the nation. The book, “State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet” is by James O. Hill and Holly R. Wyatt.

It’s all about lifestyle, activity level, and exercise, says co-author, Dr. James Hill. Add a mind-set to eat healthily, and we’ve got a winning combination of daily values here in Colorado that really works.

The authors advocate adopting the Colorado lifestyle, which means doing physical activity 70 minutes a day, six days a week — for the rest of your life, far more than the CDC’s current recommendation of 150 minutes per week. This, they say, will reset your body’s metabolism.

Since I live in Boulder, and am typical in this lifestyle practice that he’s advocating, I say that this amount of exercise each week simply expends more calories than sitting, and promotes an emotionally healthy attitude which carries over to the way we eat. It’s an overall consistent value system. I also don’t see this amount of exercise or activity as being a punishment; it is one of the highlights of my day.

People living elsewhere who are thin have also adopted this same “Colorado” active lifestyle, the authors conclude.

Sometimes, it seems like media decries personal responsibility when it comes to obesity. While it is an undeniable problem that big-food knows how to create addictive foods rewarding our brains through using too much salt, fat, and sugar; and, food eaten away from home supplies way too many calories per portion, Hill’s book suggests that by adopting an active lifestyle the rest will follow; and, that there are no easy avenues to weight loss.

Unfortunately, the reality is, for those of us living in the industrialized world, to the great detriment of our health, we’ve engineered activity out of our daily lives. We must now work at engineering it back in, and that is my wish and hope for all of us on this “World Food Day.”

CIRES and NOAA on the Boulder Flood Event

I’ve been waiting for this. Today, CIRES at the University of Colorado, NOAA, and the CSU Colorado Climate Center have released their preliminary assessment of the September 2013 Colorado Front Range flood event.

Key Points:
● An unusually persistent and moist weather pattern led to rainfall totals from September 9th – 15th that have been observed in only a handful of events on the Front Range in the past century.

● In the context of the entire Front Range this was a rare precipitation event, especially for September, and in some respects unprecedented.

● The very heavy rains caused severe to extreme flooding across the northern Front Range and downstream areas in northeastern Colorado; the peak flows at many gages and the overall extent of flooding were probably unmatched in at least 35 years.

● Research is underway at CIRES and NOAA to determine how human-caused climate change may have influenced this event and whether the risk of similar events occurring in the future will increase. The most plausible influence of climate change: Slightly more water vapor being made available for precipitation.

● The natural hazard of flooding for the Front Range includes not just smaller-scale convective events with very high rainfall intensity (e.g., Big Thompson, July 1976), but also rain-on-deep-snowpack events (May 1894), and broader-scale, long-duration rain events with mainly lower intensities (September 2013).

● Total societal exposure to flooding on the Front Range has increased in the past several decades due to population growth and development; recurrence of a previously experienced natural hazard will tend to cause comparatively more damage.

Martin Hoerling of NOAA in Boulder says that conditions for both Hurricane Sandy and this Colorado Flood had a blocking pattern that kept the weather from moving west to east as normal. How quickly a storm leaves an area is a big factor in the severity of any weather event.

UPDATE: Also recommended: The flood next time, by Roger Pielke Jr. who says, “Unfortunately, Time magazine set in motion an urban legend when it called our disaster a 1000-year flood, suggesting that it was an incredibly rare event, on with only 0.1 percent chance of occurring in any year. The claim subsequently has been repeated often across social and mainstream media. We cannot afford to get caught up in such hyperbole. What we know so far is that the flood event experienced by the city of Boulder, despite the record extent and magnitude of rainfall, is actually probably more accurately described under standard methods of flood frequency analysis as a 25-year flood, or one with a 4 percent chance of occurring in any year.”

Tremendous future growth is predicted for the Front Range of Colorado. Each weather event here, and elsewhere, is complicated by the expensive fact that more homes, roads, bridges, and supply chain infrastructure are damaged as growth trends upward.

SOURCE: http://wwa.colorado.edu/resources/front-range-floods/assessment.pdf

The Spirit of this Place. Boulder Rebounds.

Early on Saturday afternoon, the doorbell rang. I answered it, fully expecting one or two young people with clipboards to be at the door, like usual, but much to my pleasant surprise it was the four-some on the photo above. This team was part of a volunteer group from the University of Colorado called C.U. Boulder Volunteer Resource Center, a group that gives a day a month to helping in the community. On this day, they were helping their own residential neighborhood clean up after the flood.

We did have a job looming — to get our trash to the curbside for pick-up this coming week — the removed carpet, drywall, and box contents from the basement. So, I invited them to help. They were thrilled to have found a taker for their services. The four of them worked for an hour and a half, alongside my husband, and got everything out to the curb.

That’s merely one example, a very personal one, of how this community has come together during and following a crisis. I’ve been astounded at how quickly repairs are being made and how quickly this city is getting back to normal.

If anyplace could come through a thousand year rain with flying colors, a place where multiple canyons feed water into town, it would be, well, Boulder.

I got giddy a few nights ago when I was the very first person to use a newly opened bike underpass following the flood. The worker was still standing there and had just opened the “closed” gate. It was so much sooner than I expected, and I’d been in that spot the day before and saw it closed.

Boulder did quite a good job of preparing for this event. Our renowned bicycle trails which I personally think are a fantastic amenity to our city were, in part, planned and paid for with flood mitigation monies years ago.

The following excerpt is taken from www.bicyclinginfo.org/ and was written by Transportation Planner, Cris Jones:

In 1910, Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. warned the city of Boulder of the dangers of allowing development to encroach upon the floodplain of Boulder Creek. He recommended against the construction of a deep, artificial flood channel to facilitate development in the floodplain. Instead he suggested that Boulder Creek be allowed to remain in a small shallow channel for the ordinary stages of the stream, while including a much broader floodplain as a channel during larger storms. Recognizing the need to dedicate this floodplain land to a useful purpose, he suggested creating a space for public use.

In 1969, a moderate flood affected the city of Boulder. The following decade marked the city’s first serious flood control efforts. Initial investigations focused on traditional flood mitigation techniques, such as hard-lining stream channels and using concrete structural facilities to channelize stream flow. These plans, however, conflicted with the city’s commitment to improve both quality of life and the urban environment, and evoked considerable public opposition.

With the goal of maintaining and enhancing the aesthetic and environmental integrity of Boulder Creek and its tributaries, the city decided to pursue alternative solutions to flood control. In 1978, the city adopted a “non-containment” policy for Boulder Creek as part of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan. This policy promoted ongoing city efforts to protect public safety by restricting development within the floodplain of Boulder Creek and its tributaries.

In 1984, the city adopted the Boulder Creek Corridor Plan that recommended development of a continuous path along the entire length of Boulder Creek. This corridor would serve both as a flood hazard mitigation measure and as a continuous urban park for recreational and transportation use. It would also serve to restore and enhance wetlands along with fish and wildlife habitats.

The construction of a continuous shared-use facility required separated grade crossings at each intersection throughout the corridor. Existing creek underpasses were converted to include shared-use path underpasses through fairly simple modifications. Upon its completion, the Boulder Creek Path was instantly popular and quickly became a much loved community amenity.

The public acclaim of the Boulder Creek project led to an increase in public discussion about the desirability of extending and continuing the concept of the Boulder Creek project along Boulder Creek’s tributaries within the city. As a result, the city designated over 32.2 km (20 mi) of stream corridors along six tributaries of Boulder Creek for inclusion in the Greenways Program.

Today, the city of Boulder is home to more than 55 underpasses built to serve bicyclists and pedestrians. While most new underpass projects are driven by the transportation department, underpasses often have benefits beyond transportation. New underpasses along Boulder’s greenways have increased flood carrying capacity and improved the natural environmental systems along Boulder Creek and its tributaries.

Those Olmsted inspired underpasses did just what they were supposed to do during a flood and they held up well, too.

Incidentally, the farmers market also looked very normal on Saturday.

There is a spirit here that is special. I felt it the first time I set foot in this town. To some, we’re viewed as an odd mix of ambiguities, eccentricities, hipsters, crystal-toters, leftist wing-nuts, foodies, students, educators, artists, dreamers, trustifarians, world class athletes, geeks, and scientists, but somehow it all seems to work out right in the end. If you’d like to experience a sample of what I mean by ambiguity, and the indomitable spirits who choose to dwell here, sometimes lacking in better judgement, see this video of crazy bikers going down Left Hand Canyon after the flood.

And a big thank you to our angel helpers from CU.