UG volunteer’s passions include wildlife, recycling

By Carol Carpenter
RMC Communications Team

Eric Rechel

     Eric Rechel

Eric Rechel has a big, warm heart for wild animals. From mice and prairie dogs to elk, deer and raptors, he has been volunteering tirelessly for years to help ensure they have a safe and natural place to live.

Right now Eric, a Sierra Club Uncompahgre Group (UG) co-chair and Oil and Gas Committee member, and his fellow UG members are fighting to close roads in public wilderness areas in western Colorado. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) road closures would improve habitat for countless wild animal and bird populations. (See “Uncompahgre Group supports road closings in western Colorado” in May 2013 Peak and Prairie)

“Wildlife need wild places, and we have been closing illegal roads each year since 2006 on Forest Service land,” the Grand Junction resident said. “The motorized community treats our lands as an amusement park. They just want to ride with little consideration for the landscape.”  

Prairie dog rescue

Earlier this decade, Eric, who has been a member of Sierra Club for nearly 20 years, and his Group rescued hundreds of prairie dogs from certain death. Their goal was to make sure the doomed-by-backhoe burrowing animals were removed humanely from the seemingly endless development of private land and moved to safer public land. Things were going quite well until the partially completed project ended in 2009.  “In 2004, prairie dogs were getting buried alive,” Eric states. “Local citizens were calling the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) office, asking what could be done to rescue them.”

The project required seemingly endless communications with three bureaucratic government agencies: the BLM, the CDOW, and Mesa County.  After countless meetings and much paperwork, the deal was finally sealed: more than 400 prairie dogs were relocated to BLM sites near the Utah state line.

Eric enjoys skiing
Eric enjoys skiing

“Working with prairie dogs was very rewarding,” Eric states, noting, however, that he was extremely disappointed when the project was halted by Mesa County in 2009. “The county was very concerned about moving prairie dogs and spreading the plague, so when Fruita found a dead prairie dog that tested positive for plague, they stopped us.”

Eric says he has always felt the fear of plague was unfounded. “When you mention the plague people remember stories where half of Europe died from it. Dead bodies were so numerous they were just piled up and burnt. However, this occurred over 650 years ago and there have been advancements in medical knowledge since then.”

He also feels frustration in not knowing for certain if the relocation was completely successful. “Did the prairie dogs adjust to their new homes or just run off and die?” he asks, “We would have had to use special small animal transmitters, and we just didn’t have the money for that.”

Despite his concerns about the ultimate fate of the relocated animals, Eric is not sorry that he and his Group took the challenge. For their efforts, the Rocky Mountain Chapter (RMC) presented Eric with a Grassroots Leader of the Year award for 2004 and the UG with the Special Achievement Award that same year. 

Today, Eric is considering another stab at similar prairie dog relocation projects. “I have to get over the county’s decision to stop us from relocating prairie dogs and try again,” he says with determination. “There have been some changes at the county in the past two years, so they may be willing to let us go forward with more relocations. I see prairie dogs living along the side of roads. In some cases, they should be moved to a more secure place.” 

Recycling a top priority

Encouraging recycling, particularly in Mesa County, is also at the top of Eric’s environmental to-do list. He has personally helped introduce recycling at a number of Grand Junction and other area events, including:

  •     Grand Junction’s 4th of July event
  •     The Fruita Fall Festival
  •     Grand Junction baseball event
  •     Grand Junction’s local health fair
  •     Grand Junction Wine Festival

He remembers when recycling, as recently as 2008, was simply not much of a priority in his local area. Each July, for instance, he noticed that people left their trash on the ground at an annual country music event in Mack called the County Jam.

“The lawn was covered with bottles and plastic,” he observed. “The next morning a crew of kids from Job Corps would come in and clean up the lawn, putting everything in dumpsters with no sorting of recyclable materials. We were madly going over the lawn i for n front of kids picking up recyclable items so they would not be thrown away.”

Quickly fed up, he and UG co-chair Carole Chowen addressed event organizers and asked them to sort the recyclable materials. “At first they were reluctant, saying they had ‘always done it this way and weren’t going to change,’” Eric recalls. “Well, the next morning the kids were sorting out the recycling materials. That was a big ‘yeah’us, and we continued to help with recycling at Country Jam for the next two years.”

Proud Sierra Club member

Whether tabling at an event or talking to people in meetings, he is proud to announce that he is a member of the Sierra Club. “Stating I am a Sierra Club member always gives credence to my advocacy for the environment,” Eric points out.

He would love to see more Sierra Club members in western Colorado become more active. “I have observed that only about 1 to 3 percent of the group membership is active. I have yet to figure out how to change a person’s priorities so that they are willing to be more active.”

And that is a very good question.



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