Printed in the Durango Herald March 23, 2019

Independent businesses an ecosystem’s native species

The word resiliency can be used to describe both an ecosystem and an economy. Resiliency ultimately means the ability to bounce back or recover from a shock, or the ability to avoid the shock altogether. Take the 416 Fire, for example, with an estimated cost of $27 million, as well as an unquantifiable cost to our waterways, wildlife, and land. At the Local First annual meeting this month, the community was invited to hear from panelists as they discussed Durango’s resiliency in relation to the 416 Fire.

Upon reflection, some interesting takeaways formed with respect to our community’s ability to recover from the fire. Theresa Blake Graven of Visit Durango reported that social media provided a surprising, new platform for a real-time conversation with the public, allowing them to refute sensational news. Visit Durango’s use of social media to report real time news allowed them to communicate the role of backburns, for example, in using fire to fight fire.

Financial planning and reserves played a pivotal role, as Briggen Wrinkle of the Community Foundation of Southwest Colorado explained. The Foundation was able to tap into a fund initially set up for the Seasons’ restaurant fire to grow a relief fund for the 416 Fire, donating, $416,000 (yes, you read it right) to community members and businesses impacted by the fire. And Tim Walsworth from the Business Improvement District reported a less than expected sales tax hit, remarking that “people were purposeful in their shopping and that helped us weather the storm.”

Christian Robbins, representing the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Train, spoke to the train’s need to make operational changes moving forward. “Adaptation has always been part of the train’s vision,” said Robbins, citing shorter train trips from Rockwood to Cascade, reduced passengers in the summer, and a new diesel engine as the train’s response to increased drought and wildlife risk in the southwest. Robbins also gave a nod to economic diversification as an important indicator of a healthy economy, giving the example of the recently proposed Durango Creative District as one way to build resiliency. Economic diversification, in this sense, is akin to biological diversity as an indicator of ecosystem health.

While Durango and Silverton were the main focus of the discussion, Graven reminded us that our neighbors in Farmington and Pagosa “all showed up,” speaking to the importance of a regional economy as another way to build resiliency into a system. Looking to the future, Graven spoke about Visit Durango’s plan to develop a campaign around sustainable tourism, including a “leave no trace” message that educates visitors about fire-adapted forest ecosystems in the southwest and how to minimize their impacts while visiting our town.

The conference ended with Local First Board Member Mary Oswald taking us back to the bigger picture and reminding us that climate change has created a “new normal” and that we need to be prepared for what is to come. Local First is leading the way to build resiliency, day in and day out, by supporting the local, independent business community. This community lives here and makes decisions about our town, reinvesting resources back into the system while growing and learning together. An interesting parallel can be made to native species in an ecosystem that have grown in sync with their surroundings and adapted to the climate around them.

Moving forward, however, the new norm of intensified climate weirding will require us all to work together to decide how best to evolve Durango’s business model to react and respond, or even avoid, the shocks that climate change will increasingly bestow upon us. Climate models show that we are literally at ground zero when it comes to impacts, so Local First intends to start proactively working together now, not only to prepare for the next inevitable fire, but to prepare our community, both economically and environmentally, for the future.

Monique DiGiorgio is managing director of Local First in Durango. Contact her at