Looking out for the little guys

by Jodi Peterson

From its roots as a scrappy, garage-band-style environmental group, the Paonia, Colorado-based Center for Native Ecosystems has become a voice for the kind of endangered species often overlooked by other conservation groups. The center has championed such unlikely species as Graham’s penstemon, a wildflower threatened by oil and gas development, the boreal toad and the pocket gopher. "Many people think of pandas and whales when they think of endangered species," says staff biologist Erin Robertson. "We point out the animals and plants in peril right here in our own backyards."

Spawned over beers on a back porch in Boulder in May 1999, the center’s goal is to fill what its organizers see as a major gap in endangered species advocacy in the West. Executive director Jacob Smith recalls, "It’s been a wild ride. We first drafted our bylaws on a napkin. Now we have offices in western Colorado and the Front Range, two full-time employees, and a whole host of volunteers."

Right now, the center is putting pressure on the Colorado Wildlife Commission to restore the lynx in southern Colorado, trying to protect the Preble’s mouse from Front Range development, and pressuring the federal government to list the white-tailed prairie dog as endangered. The group’s tactics range from grassroots organizing with local activists and other conservation groups, to filing lawsuits against the state and federal government.

"There’s something morally wrong about knowingly wiping an entire species from the earth," says Smith. "It’s within our power to do better." For more information about CNE, see www.nativeecosystems.org. © High Country News