Dr. Heidi Steltzer
Dr. Heidi Steltzer

People are affected by environmental changes. For example, climate warming may lead to more carbon dioxide emissions from Arctic soils to the atmosphere, leading to greater warming, leading to an increase in mosquitoes and a greater risk of diseases carried by mosquitoes for people and wildlife.

“That means that as a society, we need to include these complex interactions across ecological systems in our planning to ensure we can ‘live with’ the conditions we create,” explains Assistant Professor of Biology Heidi Steltzer, recipient of the 2013 New Faculty Award. “And that’s why students in my courses place the foundational knowledge of biology and public health into the context of environmental issues – because a liberal arts education is essential to identify solutions to environmental issues and ensure we do not limit the health and well-being of future generations.”

Dr. Steltzer’s research into the effects of climate change on Arctic and alpine ecosystems has sent her to many amazing places, from Alaska to Greenland. But she’s excited to be able to continue her research and teaching in the nearby San Juan Mountains – a place she says she has been drawn to since she first visited here as a Ph.D. student in the 1990s. And a place also vulnerable to the effects of changes in climate.

“In the Four Corners region, climate warming may lead to vegetation changes on the Colorado Plateau, leading to increased dust deposition in the San Juan Mountains, changing the timing of snowmelt and flowering in alpine meadows, and obscuring the views we love to see,” she says. “So at Fort Lewis College, I have both the opportunity to live and teach within a great mountain community, and also to be close to the mountains I want to study.”

And there is added benefit to doing that kind of work at FLC, she adds. “Here we have students who are well conditioned to work in the Arctic and the alpine environment. Their recreational pursuits have helped them prepare to hike carrying heavy packs and work in cold, wet, hot, dry, and mosquito-dominated conditions.”