The sounds of music floated through Paonia Park on Saturday. Guitar, flute, even trumpets and trombones interspersed speeches and poems on climate change and the ecological concerns of North Fork residents.
Guest speakers like David Inouye, a research ecologist who's been studying the Rocky Mountains for decades specializing in pollinators, warns that climate change has already started to effect the local plants and animals. "The average temperature in Cedaredge is five degrees higher than it was in the '70s," he said. "We're seeing earlier stream flow peaks; we're seeing lower stream flow peaks."
Alex Johnson, director at the Western Slope Conservation Center reaffirmed this. "The Yampa river had a call for the first time in recorded history!" A call on the river means that senior water right holders withhold water from junior right holders that are upstream. He warns that if trends continue more rivers will be called, maybe even districts or the entire state.
It's not all bad news. Many local groups have started to take action. The Citizen's Climate Lobby has formed a chapter here and is calling for a fee on carbon at points of entry and extraction of $15 per ton (increasing by $10 per year). They offer this as a "free market solution," instead of a tax paid to the government. The fee gets redistributed among citizens. They claim that the stipend would more than cover any potential gas and oil price increases, encouraging energy companies to invest in alternative energy sources without harming consumers.
Another group, the Paonia bike club, encourages members to be environmentally friendly by, well, riding their bikes. They arrange group rides during the summer and organize rides for kids to get them out and active.
The North Fork Valley Community Rights Advocates have gone a step further. They've created a "Community Bill of Rights" aimed at "keeping out unwanted corporate development." The bill lays out proposed rights of the community, including the "Right to a healthy climate ... capable of sustaining human activities" and "Right to clean air, water, and soil." It also affirms the right of any resident "to intervene in any action concerning this law in order to enforce or defend it." Many communities across the nation have started to look into similar ordinances. Grant Township in Indiana County, Pa., has already adopted their version, and so far it has held up to lawsuits by oil and gas companies. Closer to home, Lafayette on the Front Range adopted its own back in 2013, and despite a lawsuit by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, is still pressing forward.
"People are burned out on writing letters ... we want action" declared a spokeswoman for the NFVCRA. "We are going to change the law."
One of the major sparks for this action is the oil and gas lease by the Bureau of Land Management. They proposed to lease 7,800 acres of public lands for oil and gas development. Thanks to the actions of residents 2,800 acres were pulled from the ballot, but many of the 5,000 remaining acres are butted up against the Paonia Reservoir. According to Patrick Dooling of the Western Slope Conservation Center the reservoir already has a major sedimentation issue, with buildup having significantly reduced its capacity. "More development would release more sediment into the reservoir," exacerbating an already significant problem."
Despite major push back from locals, the BLM is on track to go forward with the leasing.
The Paonia event closed with a march around the park to the tune of classic New Orleans jazz. As the crowd dispersed smiles and laughs were shared between all present, hopeful that they would be able to make a difference in their community and the world.