Advisory Group Spotlights

Heidi Steltzer

Heidi Steltzer is a researcher, explorer, professor of environment and sustainability at Fort Lewis College, and CO LSEN advisory board member.

Left, Mary Shinn (Colorado Springs Gazette); Right, Heidi Steltzer

Climatic conditions have changed quite a bit since Heidi Steltzer was earning her Ph.D. at the University of Colorado Boulder from 1994 to 1999. 

“The alpine in our state is drier during summer than I ever could have imagined back then. I remember mud and cold feet being the problem of my Ph.D. years,” recalled Steltzer. “These days I put a water content sensor in the ground and get a 1% reading – I can’t believe it. That’s a desert.” 

As the climate in Colorado gets hotter and drier, predicting and planning for water availability is becoming increasingly critical. Improving our ability to predict water availability is the focus of one of several research projects Steltzer is working on in Colorado right now, in addition to a collaborative project with the Bureau of Land Management to assess ecosystem health and determine options for ecosystem restoration as we see less snow in the San Juan Mountains. 

An expert in all things alpine, Steltzer was called on to contribute (as a leading author) to the 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on the Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate – cryosphere meaning anywhere on earth where there is frozen water (including sea ice, ice sheets, glaciers, snow and permafrost). Among many other contributions to date, she testified before the U.S. Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology on the state of the climate crisis in Jan. 2020. 

Being called on as an expert by members of Congress is an extraordinary experience in its own right, but while testifying, Steltzer felt a moment of unity she hadn’t expected. As the ranking Republican member spoke, one of his key points was central to the statement Steltzer would be giving in just a few minutes. 

“To me, that meant something good can come out of this,” she said. “If we can see the synergy between what a Republican leader in Congress is saying and what I was about to say, there is an opportunity for people with diverse viewpoints to come together on climate change.”

The point they agreed on was that we need a new narrative on climate change. What that new narrative is, Steltzer can’t say – we need to develop it collectively, she said. 

Groups that bring diverse perspectives together, such as the Colorado Local Science Engagement Network (CO LSEN), have enormous potential to help create that narrative. When asked what she hopes CO LSEN will initiate, Steltzer answered, a catalyst for conversation. 

“There are so many groups we need to bring to the table on climate change,” she said. “The Indigenous Peoples of the region, some of whom reside in Colorado, and some that don’t. We need to bring in the voices of the people whose ancestral lands these are, even if their reservation isn’t within our state’s boundaries today.”

Other groups who need to be involved in the conversation are water resource managers, private landowners, and business owners, including in regions of Colorado that depend on tourism for their economies, Steltzer said. 

Thank you, to Heidi, for serving on our advisory board. Our goals at CO LSEN are not only to engage scientists in the policy realm, but also to bring people with diverse perspectives together to create equitable and holistic solutions to environmental problems. With Heidi’s leadership and support we seek to work effectively in Southwestern Colorado as we address challenges and opportunities relating to our work across the state.