Dana Cronin

Staff Writer

This past Tuesday evening, students, faculty, and community members alike piled into Cornerstone Arts Center. Their backgrounds and views may have varied, but they were all brought together by a magnetic interest: simply, their environment.


The big event was the annual unveiling of the State of the Rockies Report Card, coupled with a film premiere by Colorado College students and an engaging talk by renowned guest speaker Michael Soulé.


The State of the Rockies program fills an important and unique niche in connecting Colorado College with conservation and environmental awareness all over the American West, and their report card is a comprehensive document focused on assessing a wide variety of environmental conservation efforts.


Now in its 11th year, the Project has produced yet another annual report card and an adjacent film, focusing this year on the Spine of the Continent and Large Landscape Conservation.


After a brief introduction, Sawyer Connelly, a Colorado College senior and student researcher with the project, unveiled the 2014 State of the Rockies Report Card. It focused on nine different case studies throughout the eight-state Rockies region.


The report card represented the culmination of the summer research conducted by four student researchers: seniors Aaron Chin, Sawyer Connelly, Breton Schwarzenbach, and Sam Williams, as well as contributions from members of the expedition team, who were mainly responsible for producing the 12-minute Spine of the Continent film.


The film featured six students who embarked on an expedition beginning last spring and ending in the fall. The team included two expedition managers, David Spiegel ’12 and Zak Podmore ’11, field researchers Pat Hughes ’13 and Halsey Landon ’13, senior Breton Schwarzenbach, and project videographer, junior Alex Suber.


The team backpacked along the Spine of the Continent, which spans from northern Montana to southern New Mexico, in order to meet various landowners and stakeholders and raise awareness of the idea of large landscape conservation. After beginning in Yellowstone, the team of four ventured through Glacier National Park, Flat Head River Valley in Canada, Hilo Wilderness in New Mexico, and then back to Colorado.


Along the way, they saw and learned much about the health of these ecosystems. For example, upon entrance to Glacier National Park in Montana, the team was shocked by the evident lack of glaciers in an area where they were once abundant.


Suber, the filmmaker of Spine of the Continent, reflected on the experience with a smile. He remembered different parts of the trip, such as when they saw seven bears in a single day just outside of Yellowstone. He also remembered when his camera was taken away at an oil refinery while he tried to capture a visual of climate change for the film.


Suber’s goal in creating this film and working with the expedition team of the State of the Rockies Project is to convey scientific research and findings in a more attractive way.


“Film engages a much wider array of people than a simple report does,” said Suber, who has been working with The State of the Rockies project since his freshman year. “I see a symbiotic relationship between film and conservation efforts.”


At the close of the film, Dr. Michael Soulé was introduced as the guest speaker for the night. Soulé is an author, award-winner, environmental activist, and professor of Environmental Studies at University of California at Santa Cruz.


His talk centered on his own experiences researching wildlife. He discussed the validity of concern for large landscape conservation, as the conserved areas are crucial for the sustainability of many species. He also touched on his experience and knowledge of wildlife reintroduction.


After the event, I had the opportunity to speak with CC alum and Assistant Director of the State of the Rockies Project Brendan Boepple. He helped with the research and supervision of the expedition through the Spine of the Continent. His biggest challenge in the creation of the film was the search for interviewees.


“It’s easy to find people to interview, but it’s not easy to find people who are photogenic and who actually give a good interview,” said Boepple. “But I’d say that overall, the components of this project came together really well.”


Boepple also gave a preview for next year’s film and report, which may include researching Great Plains Issues from Montana to Missouri via horseback.


Williams was hired this time last year to conduct research for the project.


“The most memorable part of this project for me has been meeting with people regardless of where they’re coming from in order to learn more about these landscapes that we all deeply care about,” said Williams.

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