Posted on Jan 25, 2023
Last week our speaker was Jim Tolstrup, the Director of The High Plains Environmental Center (HPEC) in Loveland, CO a “unique model for preserving native biodiversity in the midst of development.”
After an “interesting” introduction by Bill Timpson and a reluctant Del Benson our speaker described the center as 76 acres of trails lined with native vegetation including 2 lakes located in one of the driest areas in North America.
What of the early history of this area? The Lindenmeier Site proves the existence of humans in northern Colorado for at least 12, 000 years. The Lewis and Clarke expedition travelled north of Colorado. In 1820 Major Steven Long described the area as a great American desert unfit for agriculture and those depending on agriculture for subsistence. In the mid-19th century, the federal government met with local native American tribes, assuring their ownership of certain lands as well as safe passage of settlers along the Overland and Oregon trails (used by over 50,000 migrants in a single year).
Antoine Janis is believed to be the first Euro-American settler in Larimer County. He was married to a Lakota Indian woman named First Elk Woman. He apparently found our land (LaPorte) more appealing than Major Long. He described the area as “black with buffalo as far as the eye could see’’.  Arapaho Chief, Bold Wolf, told Antoine Janis and his brother Nicholas that they could make a home between the foothills of the mountains and Boxelder creek. The Janis brothers and other settlers, many of whom were married into the Indian Tribes planned to use the land wisely, combining the white man’s technological advancements with the best of indigenous values - generosity and respect for nature.
In 1877, the federal government required all Native Americans to be relocated to reservations. Janis who faced the difficult decision of sending his family away, or abandoning his prime homestead on the Poudre River, chose his family over possessions. He left the area and brought his family to land that is now within the State of South Dakota. He died on the Pine Ridge reservation in 1890. His cabin can be visited at the Fort Collins Museum at the downtown library.
Next came the farmers with their water projects changing the appearance of much of Larimer County to what we see today. Irrigation projects and abandoned gravel pits created the many lakes and ponds that we see in Northern Colorado today. The most successful crops at the time were sugar beets and cattle. We can still see remnants of cherry and apple orchards planted by pioneer farmers.
 The conversion of the dry prairie lands to agriculture brought about the decline of many native plants and animals. But it’s not all bad – the creation of lakes afforded opportunities for some species of migratory waterfall. Conservation efforts have resulted in numerous local and national success stories including the on-going recovery of the black-footed ferret, bald eagles, elk, bison, and beaver.
Today’s challenges in the West center on habitat conservation in the face of prolonged drought and rapidly increasing population. On average, each person uses 150 gallons of water per day (90 gallons on landscaping alone!) The Colorado river and it’s reservoirs supply water to 40 million people, in 7 western states. Lake Mead is at its lowest volume since it’s construction, and we just saw the first city in Arizona (Rio Verde) lose its water supply. Human populations are vastly outpacing other species, and we are facing a global crisis of biodiversity. Human beings, their livestock and pets comprise 96% of the weight of all mammals on Earth, the other 4% is what remains of wildlife. The subalpine forests of the Rockies are critical for storing snowmelt that feeds water supplies. Yet these forests may not be able to recover from extensive fire damage due to changing climatic conditions.   
With this history (and some technical problems) our speaker had limited time to describe the Center. A picture of the HPEC site before restoration showed abandoned farm junk. The vision was to restore this small piece of our planet by planting native trees, tall grasses and rare but native plants. HPEC built their headquarters in 2017 for $1.2 million funded by McWhinney, fees connected to building permits, and the city of Loveland. We saw slides of beautiful trees and plants flourishing without watering.
Because of the reintroduction of so many native plants, more than 100 species of bees have been found here. Visitors can see heirloom fruit orchards and barn owls. This is a first of its kind - a wildlife park in the middle of a growing community!
Jim is also the author of Suburbitat, a book commemorating the 20 year success story of HPEC serving as a guide to city planners, developers and landscape architects.
We ran out of time so no questions this week.