Conservation, a Colonel, and a Corps

Poudre Canyon Abert’s squirrel (Photo by Bear and Steve Den)

Bear and Steve Den


Oxford English Dictionary
conservation: preservation or restoration of the natural environment

Bear and I have been asked what we believe conservation should look like. We have heard or read famous quotes about conservation from folk far more educated and statured in the field than us including Teddy, Aldo, Henry, and John. Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th president, once said about conservation we should “Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it.” Aldo Leopold, father of wildlife ecology, once said about conservation “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” Those two quotes, and everything in between, pretty much covers the gamut of the myriad of viewpoints on what conservation should look like. Henry David Thoreau, American environmental scientist, was much like an oak tree and Bear and me…we three stood our ground on conservation.  And, John was a naturalist and military officer. He had a very special relationship with this species of squirrel we photographed up Poudre Canyon.

When it comes to conservation, we’ve chosen to take an uncommon path through the great outdoors. We’ve always enjoyed helping to mold young people to become ‘Stewards of Nature’… to simply give back to nature. Fortunately, we’ve played a small role by giving kids hands-on stewardship opportunities to participate in worthwhile outdoor projects: Cherokee Park Bluebird Trail where the nest boxes they built and hung up kicked out hundreds of mountain bluebird fledgelings and many other secondary cavity nesters, planting a Living Snow Fence north of Fort Collins at the Rawhide Power Plant, recycling, and helping to bring the ECO-Week experience back to Poudre School District after it was dropped from the curriculum. Those kids were the only 6th graders in our school district to participate in ECO-WEEK at 9,000 feet for 3 days and 2 nights at Colorado State University’s mountain campus up at Pingree Park that year.

Actually, Bear and I never really considered ourselves conservationists per se. To us, it was just a way of life. If you can better our natural environment in any way, then simply seize the day. And, of course, we haven’t forgotten about John. Every time one of these black squirrels show up in our yard, we welcome them by saying “Hi, Johnny!” In addition to being a naturalist and military officer, Colonel John James Abert was head of the Corps of Topographical Engineers for over three decades mapping the American West. Lots of folks call these black squirrels up here in our ponderosa pine forest tassel-eared squirrels. Officially, they’re called an Abert’s squirrel named after Johnny.

Oh, an oak tree? Henry David Thoreau once said “Every oak tree started out as a couple of nuts who stood their ground.” From a couple of nuts in Poudre Canyon, we’ll continue to preserve or restore our natural environment.


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