New Horizons: Sustainability in Action

Spring is in the air, and migration patterns are beginning.  This is one of the most magical times of the year, when birds, insects, animals, fish, whales, and so many beings start moving. What a wonder to see creatures appear, sometimes stay for the summer, and move on in a natural, annual pattern.  It is nothing short of magical as migrating species are an integral part of every ecosystem they touch.

Currently, one of the exciting migrations in Colorado, Nebraska and other states is the Sand Hill Cranes.  They have arrived in the San Luis Valley. In fact, the Monte Vista Sand Hill Crane Festival is coming up, March 8-10. There you can find up to 20,000 cranes and other birds The cranes also visit the Yampa River Valley twice a year, and their festival is in fall to celebrate the southern decent.  

Of course, there are migrations in every part of the world.  The seasons of eastern Africa mean the mass migration of millions of animals to the water holes during the dry season.  The elephants, lions, wildebeests, and many others travel through various countries, chasing water or finding safety to raise the young, feeding hungry crocodiles along the way.  

Monarch butterflies travel from California and Mexico to northern states and Canada every year.  Most of their life is spent in migration of an average of 4800 kilometers, using the earth’s magnetic field to navigate.  Salmon are interesting as they spend their first couple of years in freshwater rivers, transform and migrate out to sea for several years before they return to their ancestral river to spawn.  This journey is an average of 3800 kilometers.

In the sea, leatherback turtles travel up to 20,000 kilometers along the Pacific coast following jellyfish and other food.  The longest migration of all is the Arctic Tern at 71,000 kilometers. These small birds enjoy two summers by flying between the Arctic and Antarctic circles, every year. They see more sunshine than any other species (

Although species have evolved over millions of years and flourished, they are now endangered due to human activity including burning fossil fuels leading to climate change, destruction of wetlands and important ecosystems, the dissection of migratory corridors, poaching, loss of habitat, and changing currents and acidification in the oceans.

Migration is important for the organism because it fulfills their needs for food, shelter, breading and other specific needs.  They are important to ecosystems because they perform vital services like pest control, seed dispersing, pollination and moving materials and energy between different systems.  The environment and the bird, animal or insect evolved together and there is no separation of their collective health (

Traditionally, humans also migrated.  Hunters and gatherers migrated depending on water sources and food abundance.  For example, in this region, the Utes traveled between the low lands of Utah and the Front Range during winter and most migrated into the high mountain valleys in the summer. Hunting grounds extended into Wyoming, Oklahoma, Texas, and New Mexico.  While neighboring tribes would help establish boundaries, hard borders were non-existent.

The further separated humans are from the land, the more artificial borders and barriers to migratory pathways are created. Part of the region along the Mexican-United State border is a sensitive area called the Sky Islands and it harbors more than 7,000 species, many of which struggle to cross human-made obstructions (

The invention of agriculture, storage abilities, construction and energy innovations, modern life does not require migration for many people.  But economic, environmental, and social issues still make human migration necessary for millions of people and it is only going to become more prevalent with climate change.  Today we are witnessing the migration of people due to water resource shortages and drought, rising oceans and disasters making land inhabitable. Social unrest due to unequal economic structures and lack of income opportunities, persecution, and violence are also pushing people out of their homeland.    

Ecologically, migration needs to be supported and natural patterns encouraged to protect the delicate and diverse system of earth.  Socially, the reasons for human migration are increasing and we must change our policies to better serve the rising need.

After this long, cold winter, I know I am ready to see one of my favorite signs of spring, robins.  

Robyn Wilson has degrees in International Business, Sustainable Communities, and Bilingual and Multicultural Education.  She teaches permaculture design at Colorado Mesa University, and returned to Grand County to manage Grandma Miller’s New Horizons.