Starting, funding and sustaining a small business isn’t easy, even during the best of times. Years ago, one multiple offender gave a succinct explanation of the problems he’d encountered.

“It’s really easy if you have a lot of money to lose, no customers, no services, no products, no employees, no office, no bills, no payments and no revenue,” he explained. “Then you don’t have to comply with regulations and pay taxes so you can sleep late, spend your money having fun and go get a job when the dough runs out.”

It has been five years since my spouse Karen launched Colorado Fun, a semiannual visitor-oriented magazine focusing on the Pikes Peak region. Initial capital: $20, the minimum balance required to open a business checking account at Pikes Peak National Bank. Conceived as a slickly produced ad-supported publication, the mag had to attract and retain scores of advertisers — and get ’em all to pay in advance.

After decades in the newspaper advertising business, Karen knew what worked, and how to create and sell a new print product. Until the pandemic hit, everything was chugging steadily along — until it wasn’t.

The 2020 print editions were shelved, the magazine went online and will reappear in print this spring… we hope!

Karen’s travails are far from unique. Businesses of all kinds are vulnerable to Black Swan effects. Texas freezes, California and Colorado burn, New Orleans floods and businesses suffer. Politicians shift blame, swear to fix things and legislators create new laws. Result: regulations!

Let’s consider the Endangered Species Act of 1973, arguably the most successful and respected environmental legislation ever passed by Congress. It was intended to protect and revive endangered plants, animals and their habitats. It had vast and visible successes, saving species such as bald eagles, whooping cranes and peregrine falcons from extinction. Yet as decades passed, it became a favorite target of conservative Republicans who believed that it unduly and unreasonably restricted development in areas thought to be home to endangered or threatened species.

Remember the Preble’s meadow jumping mouse? When it was listed in 1998, Colorado environmentalists rejoiced and developers were furious. Since the mouse’s only habitat was riparian areas of the Front Range, it seemed that the tiny rodent might stop the bulldozers of unrestrained growth. In fact, growth continued as did political polarization. The ESA became ever more fossilized, bureaucratic and ineffective, as regulators fought off hostile politicians and angry special interests.

The result: The Monarch butterfly, a once-ubiquitous species loved by Americans for centuries, is on the verge of extinction. In F. Martin Brown’s 1955 edition of Colorado Butterflies (full disclosure: I was Brown’s student and contributed to the book) the author wrote: “The southwest migration of the Monarch is spectacular locally. Hordes of Monarchs move off from perennial gathering points … so exciting are these migrating swarms that notice of them appears in newspapers each year.” According to the Xerces Society, a foundation for invertebrate conservation, “In the 1990s, hundreds of millions of Monarchs made the epic flight each fall from the northern plains of the U.S. and Canada to sites in the oyamel fir forests in central Mexico, and more than a million Monarchs overwintered in forested groves on the California coast. Now, researchers and community scientists estimate that only a fraction of the population remains — a decline of approximately 80% has been seen in central Mexico and a decline of 99% has been seen in coastal California.” 

On Jan. 19 of this year, only 1,914 Monarchs were found in their California wintering groves. In Pacific Grove, “The Butterfly City,” there were none.

So what have the Feds done? On Dec. 15, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said that listing the Monarch butterfly as threatened under the ESA is warranted, but precluded by other priorities. In other words they’re too busy, too politicized or too clueless to act.

Meanwhile, we can act. Plant milkweed, the Monarchs’ food plant, in your garden along with nectar-producing butterfly-friendly flowers such as Rocky Mountain blazing stars, coneflowers, sunflowers and blanketflowers. Don’t use herbicides and pesticides. And contact every Colorado member of Congress. Preserving these beautiful creatures ought to be a national priority, not an occasion for bureaucratic buck-passing or partisan rancor. It might even be an opportunity for President Joe Biden and Rep. Lauren Boebert to work together.

Dream on, butterfly boy...

John Hazlehurst, whose great-grandfather came to Colorado in 1859, is a Colorado Springs native. He has worked as a reporter/columnist for the Indy since 1997 and the Business Journal since 2006.