GUEST BLOG: Hiking with a Mask

Sep 1, 2020

by Allison Navarro

Clean Air Carolina board member Allison Navarro lives in Colorado for part of the year. In this blog she shares how the impact of climate change has altered one of her favorite outdoor activities—hiking in the Rockies. 

It is said that people residing in any of Colorado’s ski resort towns come to visit for the winters but stay to live because of the summers. The mild temperatures, bluebird skies, crisp air, and endless outdoor adventures are what draw people to the majestic mountains. Normally on a warm sunny Colorado day, I would be out hiking the Rockies or mountain biking on my favorite single-track. As an additional bonus during COVID-19, Colorado backcountry offers a respite from the cities and ample outdoor, socially distanced fun. However, today I am sitting inside writing this blog because the smoke-filled air is too unhealthy to venture outside.

I have lived in Colorado for 37 years. I cannot recall more than one or two significant wildfires during the 1980’s or 1990’s. It was not until after 2000 that recurring drought and heat began noticeably affecting the state. According to a recent Denver Post article, 19 of the 20 largest wildfires in Colorado have occurred between the years of 2002 and 2020. As I sit here, there are four major wildfires burning in Colorado, two of which have already made the top 20 list.

To further stress the health of Colorado’s backcountry, millions of spruce and pine trees were killed during a beetle infestation between late 1990 and 2018.  The beetles were able to survive year after year due to the warmer temperatures related to climate change. Entire mountainsides turned brownish-red as the beetles made their way from one mature tree to the next, leaving behind fuel for the summer fires. Mike Lester, Director of the Colorado State Forest Service, said, “When so many trees die and large wildfires follow, our forests quickly turn from a carbon sink into a carbon source.”

I realize that what is happening in Colorado is but a microcosm of climate events happening around the globe. Whether it is drought, powerful storms, flooding, or poor air quality, similar scenarios are now more common than not. For my part, I will continue to be involved in addressing climate change through advocacy, involvement with climate-focused organizations, personal awareness, using my right to vote, and continually educating myself about issues. I hold the hope that the Colorado climate I remember will return and these smokey, wildfire events will one day become more of an exception than the norm.