Laura Pritchett and the stories of Colorado nature

 Hello, my curious and avid Readers! 

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This week we’re heading deep into the Colorado wildland to discuss bear populations, rangeland science, and soil. I was privileged enough to interview local writer Laura Pritchett to discuss these topics with her, specifically focusing on her book Great Colorado Bear Stories. I actually contacted Laura years ago for my undergraduate dissertation, as I had questions for her about her work in science communication. Laura has mainly published books in the fiction genre, but her book Great Colorado Bear Stories is full of wild and fascinating true stories about the bear populations in Colorado. She also recently, as requested by a local theater in Fort Collins, Colorado, wrote and produced a play called Dirt which focuses on soil science and preserving our environment. It was Dirt that originally sparked my interest in interviewing her, as the play is so unique (more about Dirt in a minute). 

When I interviewed Laura (as you can hear below), it was mainly Great Colorado Bear Stories that I focused on, asking her why she had chosen bears as her subject. Laura was asked to write this book and became engrossed in the bear populations of Colorado, specifically near where she lives in Fort Collins. As she explained, there is one species of bear in Colorado, the black bear, and the science around bears has been wrongly misinterpreted. For example, Laura explains, that the myth that “a fed bear is a dead bear” is not actually true, as studies have shown that bears will revert back to their natural prey if given the option. 

Laura also went on to tell me the story of how the grizzly bears were purposefully exterminated within the state of Colorado in the early 1900s, due to the myth that grizzlies are ferocious maneaters (which is also false). The extermination of grizzlies got so bad that we currently don’t know if there are any in Colorado anymore or not. There have been possible sightings of grizzlies, the last one Laura mentioned was in the 1970s. The map on the right shows the distribution of grizzly bears within the northwest U.S. 

 
These pictures below show how the extermination of grizzly bears was being perceived by the Colorado public during the early 1900s. Clearly, the lack of accurate science communication led to tragic results. 
 

While the extermination of grizzlies was catastrophic and heartbreaking, Laura also focused on how during the same time, the national parks were being recognized and preserved as wildlands, free of human involvement. We still obviously have national parks today, and I for one am grateful for this. 

The preservation of our wildlands and forests caused me to switch topics to ask Laura about her play Dirt, which focuses on soil science. In seeing the play, I was amazed at how different it was and how accurate soil science was being portrayed. Set in a post-apocalyptic world, the need for nutrient-rich soil becomes more and more important as life dies all around. Laura takes this dialogue one step further by having her protagonist conjure up mental arguments with philosophers, scientists, and even the Greek goddess Persephone. The arguments given in the play are enlightening and challenging for any audience member. But the play isn’t all negative, as Laura has a funny and dazzling scene of nematodes dancing across the stage. If this play is put on again, I’d highly recommend for everyone to go see it. 

If you’re interested in reading Laura’s Great Colorado Bear Stories, you can get it here. In finishing the interview with Laura Pritchett, I felt grateful for writers like her, who took efforts to communicate the science of local nature however they could, even if their mediums seemed unorthodox. I look forward to the future work Laura will publish and hope that her work has and will continue to make an impact on how people perceive Colorado nature. Listen to the full interview below for more information about Colorado bears and Laura’s play! 

 
 

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