Joan MayJoan May is a county commissioner in San Miguel County, located in southwest Colorado. Spanning from the sagebrush desert of the Dolores River valley to the rugged, remote San Juan Mountains, San Miguel County is also home to some of the state’s highest peaks.

The varied topography within San Miguel County is not only representative of its scenic beauty, but also provides habitat for both common and imperiled wildlife. In the western part of San Miguel County, the Gunnison’s Sage Grouse fights for survival with its population plummeting each year, verging on the precipice of extinction. The Canada lynx reintroduction efforts in the evergreen high tundra teeter on the narrow edge of success and failure, lacking both quality habitat and ample prey. And the pika, living in the alpine scree, is moving to increasingly higher elevations seeking the cooler habitat they need to survive a rapidly changing climate.

One of the reasons I ran for office was to help our human communities thrive as part of the natural order we are so close to here in rural Colorado. I believe passionately in the importance of preserving biodiversity and I wanted to help shape policy that protects the interconnected ecosystems on which all life depends.

I witnessed first-hand how important it is to protect land for wildlife when the Town of Telluride decided to preserve 560 acres of open space at the entrance to town, known as The Telluride Valley Floor. For many years, this land was used as a cow pasture, for tax relief purposes. Once cattle were removed from this landscape, however, many native species returned to the valley, including the at-risk Gunnison Prairie Dog, badgers, coyotes and even the occasional bobcat. Elk, a symbol of Colorado’s spectacular natural heritage, now roam freely on this open space land and raptors will likely also return.

I feel a great responsibility to make choices that enhance rather than destroy our planet’s dwindling species—especially those that are at-risk because of human behaviors that destroy habitat and alter ecosystems. In the interconnected web of life, all of our actions and decisions have impacts on other life forms.

As a community leader, it’s my job to recognize the importance of wildlife and guide policies that empower and inform citizens of its value. This is vital for our own quality of life, well being, and survival.