500 people attended the "Protect Our Species" Silver City Earth Day celebration on Saturday.

April 22, 2019
Silver City Daily Press

About “500 happy people” came out Saturday to Gough Park in downtown Silver City to participate in the 2019 Earth Day celebration, in the estimation of Gila Resources Information Project event facilitator Doyne Wrealli.

This year’s theme was “Protect Our Species,” and about 50 community businesses, clubs and environmental groups offered information and dialogue about threatened or endangered species, climate change, native plant species, voter education and other issues related to the environment. Live music carried above the winds that picked up as the day progressed, entertaining a diverse crowd of all ages.

“All species, animal and plant — including humans — are threatened on more than one front,” Wrealli said. “The next couple years will be very telling. We still have a chance if we act really fast to combat habitat loss from deforestation, climate change, invasive species and toxic environments.”

 Representatives from Freeport-McMoRan’s environment department staffed a booth under the umbrella of the Pollinator Partnership, an international group that provides science and education opportunities for crafting policy related to a critical component of the environment: the birds and the bees — and bats, beetles and butterflies, too. Bee and other pollinator species are in decline across the country; bat colonies are suffering from catastrophic disease and habitat loss. Pollinators are key to many of the plant species we depend on for a healthy environment as well as for basic agricultural processes. “It’s important to educate people about the decline of pollinators,” said Sherry Burt-Kested, environmental manager for Freeport. “Bats are one of the best because they’re so sloppy. They get covered in pollen.”

Pollinator Partnership members were helping people build “pollinator hotels,” and District 3 Grant County Commissioner Alicia Edwards was on hand promoting the school and community gardens that she coordinates through the Healthy Kids Healthy Communities organization.

Creatures that carry pollen and sustain wild and domestic vegetation are also dependent on native plant species for their own survival. Karen Medina, a member of the Grant County Beekeepers, told people interested in helping bee populations about a U.S. Department of Agriculture document available online through a link on the Beekeepers’ website. “Pollinator Plant Recommendations for New Mexico” emphasizes native species but also lists non-native “annuals, biennials, perennials and shrubs” that anyone in the state could establish in their own yards to help foster successful wild bee colonies.

According to the document, because of “colony collapse disorder and the resultant declines in domesticated bee populations,” farmers may no longer be able to depend on the domestic honeybee colonies that beekeepers hire out for crop pollination services. Therefore, Grant County Beekeepers wasn’t just promoting beekeeping on Saturday — they were raising awareness about species of vegetation that all bees rely on to survive, native plants in particular.

 District 5 Grant County Commissioner Harry Browne was spotted volunteering behind the Gila Resources Information Project booth table on Saturday, and other groups that participated in the event included N.M. Wild, the Silver City Watershed Keepers, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance, The Commons: Center for Food Security, the Great Old Broads for Wilderness hiking group, Asher Gelbert’s Green Energy Now sustainable lifestyles company, and the Advocates for Snake Preservation. The latter is a local education and conservation group trying to change public perception of snakes and raise awareness of snake populations whose habitats are in decline.

 “There are two garter snake species that are federally threatened in the Gila,” said Jeff Smith, director of research for the group. There is also “a subspecies of the ridgenose rattlesnake in the Bootheel area of southern New Mexico that is federally listed as endangered.”

Smith sought to raise awareness about how things like “drought, invasive species, non-native fish species and land management practices” were putting snake populations in jeopardy. Smith emphasized that the oft-maligned snake, poisonous or not, can easily coexist with humans — they just need some reputation rehab in the public’s consciousness.

Members of a Bernie Sanders booster club were fully feelin’ the Bern at Saturday’s event, handing out fact sheets about the 2020 Democratic Party presidential candidate’s ideas and signing people up for email lists for organizations like the Justice Democrats. Some of Sanders’ ideas promoted on Saturday were to “combat climate change and pass a Green New Deal” and health care for all — “the U.S. will join every other country and guarantee health care as a right.”  “Jobs for all and fair wages,” said Sandra Lucas, a “progressive” Grant County Democrat who advocated for Sanders. “It’s also about justice for all and a government that works for everyone.”

 Volunteer Scott Zager claimed that in 2016, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders “missed the nomination by just five votes in Grant County.” At another booth, volunteers with the Grant County Democratic Party said they had registered about a dozen people to vote.   

Also held Saturday was the annual Kids Vote! mock election for “cutest Gila Baby.” According to volunteer Sharon Bookwalter, the group focuses on election awareness and education — preparing children to vote. The platforms of the three candidates — a Mexican gray wolf pup, a common raven baby, and a gray fox kit — were available for kids to check out.  

“It’s amazing to see how seriously they take it,” Bookwalter said. “The kids really discuss and compare the candidates.” Before voting, kids had to register.

“We have same-day voter registration here,” joked Bookwalter. “Then they can cast their ballot.”  The Mexican gray wolf pup — “I try to howl, but mostly I just look cute” — won with 32 votes; the fox kit followed, with 27 votes. The baby raven trailed with a borderline-respectable 12 votes.

 

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