How is climate change impacting the city's open space?

The climate crisis is affecting Boulder's diverse and sensitive natural areas right now.

More frequent and extreme natural disasters are a reality on our shared Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) lands.

Flood: The 2013 flood, which caused $27 million in municipal property damage and $300 million worth of private property damage in Boulder, and $4 billion in damage across 24 counties, is one example. Floodwaters had caused extensive infrastructure damage across open space, including extensive damage to trails, agricultural infrastructure, and natural areas.

Fire: The region is seeing more frequent and intense wildfires, like the 2020 CalWood fire which was the largest in Boulder County history at over 10,000 acres burned. Wildfires like these can kill mature trees, sterilize soils, and lead to soil erosion.

City of Boulder regularly conducts prescribed burns

OSMP Photo

Drought: Hotter temperatures and earlier snowmelt create increasingly arid, drought conditions and less reliable water sources.

Plants and Wildlife: In addition to natural disasters like fires and floods, land managers are seeing changes in where plants grow, the timing of pollinators and migratory birds, and increased spread of undesirable weed species and pests that can thrive under the warmer conditions.

Visitors: Impacts to recreational visitors could include reduced air quality and views due to wildfire, more summer days above 95°F, more noxious weeds, more muddy trails in winter, and less of the wildlife species they are used to seeing.

Bike tracks through muddy trail

Nan Wilson

But, it’s not all doom and gloom; OSMP is preparing for these impacts, and you can help!

Boulder Climate Initiatives

Society is approaching a critical juncture in confronting the climate crisis, and the Boulder community has an important role to play. Building on the community’s history of environmental action and on the lessons learned in more than 20 years of climate work, now is the moment to ensure that the city’s climate action efforts amplify the global effort.

Learn more about what the City of Boulder is doing to attack systemic drivers of climate change, including work to:

  • Act beyond its boundaries, collaborating with partners, other cities, and government agencies to achieve impact at a larger scale, on topics within the city’s sphere of influence.
  • Support of achieving larger regional and national climate targets.
  • Build resilience and strengthening community capacity to adapt and thrive.
  • Bring the community together with renewed urgency to address the climate emergency and achieve clarity on the required next steps.

Read an update on the city's Climate Action Plan PDF.

What is OSMP doing about climate change?

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) which manages 46,000 acres of open space is addressing the global climate crisis through resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Some examples include:

  • Flood: OSMP staff manage and restore wetlands, creeks, and floodplains to absorb, slow, and store rainfall, decreasing the impact of floods, and to create habitat for wildlife and plant species dependent on wet habitats that will be susceptible to climate change.

  • Fire: OSMP staff conduct forest thinning and prescribed burns to reduce the severity of wildfires.

  • Drought: OSMP staff restore irrigated agricultural fields to prevent soil loss during arid, windy conditions, promote local agriculture, and reduce carbon emissions related to transporting food.

  • Trails: OSMP staff harden trails to reduce muddy trail closures during warmer winters.

  • Fleet: Green the OSMP vehicle fleet, transitioning to electric vehicles.

  • Buildings: Transition towards net zero. Update standards and specs for facilities.

  • Soils: Maintain plant cover on open space lands to prevent soil loss, and use restoration techniques to increase soil Carbon storage.

  • Wildlife: OSMP staff install wildlife-friendly fences, enforce wildlife closures, restore and provide vegetative cover for wildlife, and restore undesignated trails to reduce stress to wildlife and facilitate their movement to avoid heat stress.

  • Acquisitions: Continue to acquire critical wetland and riparian habitat, and property that grows the size of intact habitat blocks.

  • Youth: Continue to connect youth to nature to understand climate change and inspire stewardship and care for the land.

  • Staff commute: Incentivize staff to telework, use mass transit, and carpool to reduce green house gas emissions.

  • Science: To reduce the uncertainty in how climate change will impact open space, staff will research wildfire impact, soil and vegetation carbon stocks, seedbanks, species vulnerability, habitat fragmentation, and regenerative agriculture.

  • Oil and Gas: Continue to acquire oil, gas, and mineral rights as part of land acquisition.

  • Water: Continue to acquire water rights as part of land acquisition.

  • Education: Inform visitors via signage and programming about the climate crisis, what its impacts on human and natural systems may be, and OSMP’s and visitor’s response options.

  • Tribal relations: Consult with tribes and learn from other land management paradigms.

How can you help?

Native plants in bloom

Dave Sutherland

  • Walk, run, bus, or bike to trailheads to reduce carbon emissions.
  • Plan for hot conditions: Bring ample water for yourselves and your pets.
  • Do not create flames or ignite wildfires and help others be cautious about fire.

  • Stay on designated trails and control dogs to reduce stress on wildlife, prevent trampling of native plants, prevent the spread of undesirable species, and keep trails narrow.

  • While on open space, imagine how what you are seeing and experiencing might be different in 20 years? 50 years? 100 years?

  • Volunteer to help collect and save native plant seeds.

  • Volunteer to work on habitat restoration.

  • Support local agriculture.

  • Reduce/reuse/recycle.

  • Conserve water.

  • Talk about climate change with your friends and family.

Education and Volunteer Programs

Request a Program

OSMP staff are currently developing climate-specific themes for our program offerings. To schedule a program please visit the Request a Program page.