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Climate change a threat to Durango’s community forest

I had the pleasure this past week of attending a daylong workshop about climate change and how it could potentially affect Durango’s community forest.

I have to say, the organizing groups – Durango’s Parks and Recreation Department, Colorado State University, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science and the USDA Southwest Climate Hub – had us all a bit alarmed about what the models are predicting for our local environment over the course of the next 50-plus years.

With temperatures forecast to continue their upward trend, coupled with irregular precipitation, more days of extreme heat and an earlier melting snowpack, trees and all plants will face significant stress. Invasive species – such as Russian olive, tamarisk and Siberian elm – have already demonstrated they are able to thrive in these conditions. Conversely, much of the tree population within city limits, including the 10,000-plus trees the city owns or manages, is made up of either mature trees (older trees are more susceptible to stressors) or newly planted trees (also susceptible).

We were fortunate to hear from Sarah Hurteau, who is the urban conservation director with The Nature Conservancy. She said the city of Albuquerque has recognized the potential effect of climate change on its community forest and is working to address the long-range challenge. Albuquerque is looking at an urban forest that is 40% Siberian elm (ugh). So a combination of tree removal, tree replacement (goal of 100,000 trees by 2030) and citizen science and education will hopefully combat the effects of the changing climate the city is experiencing.

Albuquerque is also developing a document that will place a “score” on a tree species for how it is likely to perform within the parameters of current and future stressors (heat, moisture, longer growing season, etc.).

Albuquerque’s plan, along with the myriad of sobering statistics that were presented to us, provided an impetus for Durango to act. I give kudos to the city’s Parks and Recreation and Sustainability departments for not burying their heads in the sand on this. Because, really, that would be the easiest thing to do. The city can lay claim to how many trees it has planted, how it has a well-trained city forestry crew and its Community Forest Management Plan and Tree and Shrub Guide. But the city can also be realistic about the fact an aging urban forest combined with less precipitation, higher water rates, a rising population and a forecast of more intense stress events will most likely lead to a crisis scenario.

Based on what I saw at the workshop, the city is being realistic and proactive.

As a champion of trees (except for the overwhelmingly large Colorado blue spruce on my city lot), I laud the city for seeing the future of our forest. And we need to support the city’s efforts.

The best time to plant a tree is right now, and with what the city plans on doing, we will know what trees to plant.

Happy holidays to you all. Remember to be kind to each other.

And go buy a tree.

Darrin Parmenter is the director and horticulture agent of the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach him at darrin.parmenter@co.laplata.co.us or 382-6464.

Darrin Parmenter