Climate Change and Landscape Change 

| Climate Change, Colorado Native Plants

By Tom Swihart

The picture above was taken on the first day of Spring in Denver. Springtime in the Rockies. Buckle up! The forecast is for even more extreme weather shifts.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA)  Climate Summary for Colorado, we are already experiencing above average annual temperatures, above average numbers of very hot days, and fewer very cold nights. Extreme rainfall events may be more common in the future. Overall precipitation is projected to increase in the winter and possibly decrease in the summer. Higher temperatures will magnify those precipitation effects, causing earlier melting of snowpacks and higher evaporation rates. 

Photo by Deborah Lebow Aal.
First bloom of the season! Leftover from before Deb went native

Drastic action to reduce carbon emissions is needed immediately but current progress is  inadequate. According to the recent United Nations Emissions Gap Report, “There is no sign of greenhouse gas emissions peaking in the next few years.”  

What does this mean for our native landscaping goals? At a minimum, it will force landscaping adaptations to a changed climate. This is especially important for trees, which, when planted, are expected to live a very long time. Another part of the response may be a kind of “assisted migration,” where people take the risk of moving native plants to regions with climates more suitable than that in which they evolved. In other words, betting on moving plants, and insects following, hopefully at the appropriate times, trying to mimic seasonal natural phenomena.  

Desert Willow (Chilosis linearis)
Example of a plant not quite native to the Front Range

Both climate change and native landscaping transformation raise a fundamental question:  do we pursue individual initiatives or collective action? Can we count on individual citizens and businesses to make massive reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases, or would a collective approach be more effective? Similarly, is it up to individuals to overcome the biodiversity crisis by transforming their yards and parks, or should broad-scale government action be taken?

Front Range Wild Ones believes that both individual and collective actions are necessary. There is a real hazard, however, in relying too much on individual action. The climate scientist Michael Mann (famous for the hockey stick temperature trend work which shows that temperature changes happen exponentially in an upward trend), supports all of the usual individual consumer responses to climate change but emphasizes, Don’t change light bulbs, change energy systems. Transformative emission changes will not happen if personal virtue is thought of as the primary solution.

Isn’t that perspective relevant to our thinking about native landscaping? As valuable as it is to make individual changes, one yard at a time, much larger and faster changes are necessary to address the biodiversity crisis. The whole landscape system requires an overhaul. So, we urge you to continue your native landscaping, taking out your Kentucky Bluegrass and planting plants more attuned to our ecosystem, but we also urge you to take community action. Get involved with your local planning organizations to try to make larger changes. We must move faster than one yard at a time!

Curious to learn more about transforming your garden into a habitat with Colorado native wildflowers, grasses, shrubs, and trees? Check out our native gardening toolkit, register for an upcoming event, subscribe to our newsletter, and/or become a member – if you’re not one already!