Learn more about the Red-naped Sapsucker and the effort to conserve them and other bird species with Arvind Panjabi, one of five Naturalist Nights experts that will be presenting in-person in March. Photo by Mick Thompson

Naturalist Nights, one of the most highly anticipated events of the year, is back and ready to inspire audiences around the Roaring Fork Valley (RFV).

Founded by Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) in 1998, Naturalist Nights is a free winter speaker series created to connect environmental experts to the local community with the intent to encourage participants to take action in their own backyards. 

The event is now co-hosted annually by Wilderness Workshop, ACES, and Roaring Fork Audubon (RFA).

“Naturalist Nights is a longstanding partnership between ACES, RFA, and Wilderness Workshop,” said Grant Stevens, communications director for Wilderness Workshop. “I think a big part of it is we wanted to build a community here in the RFV of people that connect with nature, that love the environment, that have a connection to the place where they live and always want to learn more.”

This year, beginning Jan. 13 and alternating every week through Mar. 10, audiences can look forward to five experts who dive deep into topics that are locally relevant. 

ACES Marketing Director Emily Taylor said that choosing speakers includes looking at current issues in the RFV and future endeavors that the organizations would like to tackle.

“Usually we have some ideas percolating between Wilderness Workshop and ACES,” Taylor said. “We really wanted to do something around regenerative agriculture, which is how we identified Dr. Courtland Kelly to do the Soil Carbon in Colorado Agroecosystems presentation, because that’s a big part of what we do at Rock Bottom Ranch.”

Highlighting Hilary Boyd, a Wildlife Biologist at the Bureau of Land Management, Stevens said, Boyd will speak about how goats are being used to manage noxious weeds on public lands in the aftermath of the Lake Christine Fire, and to increase plant diversity.

Stevens and Taylor also expressed enthusiasm for RFA’s two speakers, Scott Rashid and Arvind Panjabi, discussing small mountain owls and the tremendous loss of birds over the past 50 years.

The fifth speaker, Dr. Dan West, will analyze bark beetles, their impact on forests and using aerial detection to determine beetle epidemic locations.

With a wide range of topics, Taylor said Naturalist Nights provides an opportunity to create dialogue between people of all generations and backgrounds.

Stevens added, “There’s so much to learn from older generations and folks that have spent more time here, connecting and appreciating and building a relationship [with the land]. These presentations often help those folks who have been here a long time to appreciate where they are at more; and if you’re new, it helps you build that relationship to a place. That combination is really powerful.”

Due to the rise of COVID-19 cases, the first two events, “Small Mountain Owls” by Scott Rashid and “Soil Carbon in Colorado Agroecosystems” by Dr. Courtland Kelly, will be virtual and — assuming cases decrease — the next three presentations will be in-person with safety protocols in place.

The virtual events will be held on Zoom at 6 p.m. on Jan. 13 and Jan. 27, and the in-person events will also be at 6 p.m. on Wednesdays at the Third Street Center, and Thursdays at ACE’s Hallam Lake Nature Preserve in Aspen. 

Live presentations will also be available via KDNK broadcasting, GrassRoots Community Network and the ACES and Wilderness Workshop YouTube channels and Facebook pages.

Registration for all events is highly encouraged at www.wildernessworkshop.org/events/ or www.aspennature.org/naturalist-nights

Presentation dates:

Jan. 13*:“Small Mountain Owls”  with Scott Rashid, Director, Colorado Avian Research and Rehabilitation Institute

Jan. 27*: “Soil Carbon in Colorado Agroecosystems: Practice and Promise” with Dr. Courtland Kelly, Postdoctoral Researcher, Colorado State University

Feb. 9/10: “Forest Disturbance by Bark Beetles in Colorado”  with Dan West, Forest Entomologist for Colorado Forest Service, Colorado State University

 Feb. 23/24: “Using Goats for Habitat Restoration on Public Lands” Speaker: Hilary Boyd, Wildlife Biologist with the Bureau of Land Management

 March 9/10: “Three Billion Birds Lost: The State of Our Birds and How We Get Them Back” with Arvind Panjabi, Bird Conservancy of the Rockies

* Denotes virtual presentation