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The Planet

Ecosystem Mapping Takes Off in Colorado

Report from the Field by Sarah Kelch

As a senior at Glenwood Springs High School last year, I served as co-president of its environmental club, "Impact." In years past, Impact had mainly been a recycling group, occasionally losing members because they felt we were ineffective. Hoping to change that, I called the Sierra Club to see if we could help. I never realized what lay ahead for our group after that phone call.

Under the direction of Beverly Keifer, chair of the Mt. Sopris Group of the Sierra Club, Impact began researching the Divide Creek area near Aspen, Colo. For years, Divide Creek has been stretched to its limits by old logging roads, gas and oil wells, transmission lines, timber cuts, overgrazing and mining -- resulting in a dizzying pattern of abuse. Our goal was to act as "nature's voice" in a place where nature's well-being had been overlooked for too long. Then we would present our findings to the U.S. Forest Service.

After briefings on the biology and history of the area and an introduction to stereoscoping -- using optical instruments to get a three- dimensional perspective of maps -- our 10-member group dove into months of extensive research and labeling of acetate overlays for large- and small-scale maps. The topics we mapped ranged from human impacts to wildlife migration patterns. The most overwhelming realization of the project came when we arranged the acetate overlays side-by-side on our high school gymnasium floor and saw that the largest roadless area left in the Divide Creek ecosystem was only six miles square.

In April, when the mapping was completed, six of us and our teacher-adviser, Joe Mollica, flew over the area in a helicopter. The day after the flight, we presented our maps and research to the White River National Forest staff who manage the east Divide Creek ecosystem. During the meeting we suggested solutions such as revegetating old logging roads and implementing "biological linking corridors" for wildlife.

The mapping we did is already being used by the Mt. Sopris Group as a tool to fight immediate threats such as logging and overgrazing. High-school students will continue mapping and conducting research for the Divide Creek area over the next few years.

The foundation we laid for future students proves that we, as youth in today's society, truly want environmental change. Our actions and words have spoken loudly for the Divide Creek ecosystem.

For more information: Contact Beverly Keifer at (970) 963-8684.

*Ecosystem mapping is an irresistable draw for new activists, say leaders of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter.

Sierra Club groups in the region -- including Mt. Sopris, Denver, Mt. Evans and Weminuche -- have recruited scores of new volunteers to explore the Colorado landscape each summer, searching for old-growth forest, roadless areas and signs of wildlife and then entering that data onto maps.

The mapping effort was spawned in 1992 by the Wildlands Project, which aims to protect native biological diversity by establishing a connected system of wildlife corridors, or "bioreserves," throughout North America.

The maps are used to design bioreserve proposals that activists use to pressure the Forest Service to adopt biologically sound management plans.

For more information: Contact Roz McClellan of the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project at (303) 447-9409.

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