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Editorial - the Boulder CO Daily-Camera January 1, 2002
Guarding the Ark

The past two centuries have been a disaster for wildlife. Species after species has disappeared, while others still teeter on the brink of extinction.

In the Rocky Mountain region, large predators such as wolves, big cats and bears have been so pressured by hunting, human encroachment and habitat destruction that in some cases their vast historical ranges have dwindled to slivers of far-flung wilderness; Wolves, once plentiful, now are confined in the lower 48 states to a few scattered northern habitats, and grizzly bears are even more scarce; jaguars have all but disappeared across southern borders. Outside of Yellowstone, any buffalo you see likely belong to a rancher.
Other, less salient, but no less important, species such as the black-tailed prairie dog have been squeezed out of more than 95 percent of their original range. Even toads and frogs are disappearing.
And yet, there is reason for hope as this new year dawns. Even locally, it's remarkable to see the results when human conservationists gather their strength and stand up to the destructive status quo.
Thirty and 40 years ago, raptors -- birds of prey such as hawks, eagles, kestrels and owls -- were a rare sight around the county. A few owls nested in the cliff refuges of White Rocks along Boulder Creek in the eastern part of the county, but to see an eagle was an occasion indeed.
Not so, today. Owls, while still stealthy, can be heard hooting in cottonwood branches high over houses in Niwot, and the Longmont Diagonal has become a remarkable corridor for raptors of many kinds. Now it's rare not to see a Swainson's hawk, a tiny kestrel or an eagle soaring while driving between Longmont and Boulder.
Just a short jog into the farm- and range-lands (especially north of Boulder Reservoir, or south around Baseline Reservoir), county residents now regularly spy bald eagles with their cloud-white heads and fierce yellow eyes. Golden eagles, too, and even the odd osprey.
Two local boys, Jason Patrick Ellinwood and Jesse Gershman, and some friends and siblings recently saw six bald eagles cavorting in the wintry air near Boulder Reservoir: "As the highest climbed toward the clouds, they watched it dive suddenly down to where another eagle was flying -- stopping as if to meet. The birds seemed to be playing," in Jesse's words.
There are other sights children of the '60s, '70s and even '80s could never really hope to see: mountain lions slinking through pines at dusk, sharp-eared foxes hurrying back to dens at rosy sunrise, rattlesnakes slipping away through tall summer grass.
None of this, of course, is accidental. Just as humans have devastated wildlife, in the closing years of the 20th century, many people began to understand the value of preserving the "ark" of creation.
Predator advocates have stood up to the needless slaughter of wolves, lions and bears; activists won a ban on DDT, which had almost single-handedly destroyed American eagles and other raptors; wolves have been reintroduced in the northern Rockies; and wise souls have long recognized the importance of preserving keystone species such as prairie dogs: if they go, so do owls, raptors, foxes, coyotes, snakes, etc.
Today marks the beginning of just the second year of a new century. There is much reason to be concerned for native wildlife, but there also is hope, thanks to those who labor, even in the face of fierce criticism, to preserve the glory and fullness of nature.
Lucky for us, that fullness can be experienced without ever crossing a county line. Take a pair of binoculars some cold winter morning, scan country cottonwoods for eagles and see for yourself; we think there's a very good chance you'll see sights to make your heart soar.