Environment

This Land Was Made For You and Me

Last fall, I went on a road trip up the California and Oregon Coast. For a large portion of our drive, thick, burly redwood trees created an enveloping tunnel that kept me spellbound. I realized these 500 to 2,000 year-old trees claimed this land before anyone else, and I felt privileged to share it with them.

People have cried for land conservation and public land designation for decades, and the National Park Service celebrated its monumental 100th birthday just last year. However, some have forgotten just how defining these lands are to our national identity. “This Land Is Your Land” sings about the “sparkling sands of her diamond deserts,” which may refer to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, or maybe the “golden valleys” speaks of Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. From the Redwood Forest National Park to the Gulf Stream waters found in Biscayne National Park, this land was made for us to enjoy.

Many have felt a rising threat against these lands, and the outdoor industry is leading a cause to protect them (see more on this story on page 10). We at Wasatch Magazine love public lands because of the life-changing, inspiring experiences we’ve had exploring them. The granite slabs we climb and the rocky trails we mountain bike along the Wasatch reside within U.S. Forest Service land. This past year, I backpacked and hiked around six national parks, and am grateful for the lands we collectively own.

This Land is Your Land. This Land is My Land.  Whether you prefer mountains, desert, sea, or sky, recreationists of all types have used the millions of acres in national parks, state parks, and Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service land. I fell in love with the outdoors trail running along the Bonneville Shoreline — where was it for you? As always, our advice is to get outside, but it’s also to protect and preserve that land we love. After all, this land was made for you and me.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Wasatch Editor

Photo courtesy of Mckenzie Wadsworth

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Most Polluted Snow on Earth

Anybody visiting Utah in winter has seen it, smelled it, and maybe even tasted it. Our polluted air, which brought us into first place for the worst air quality in the U.S. last week, defines the state.  Even non-skiers pray for snow days to clear out the brownish-yellow haze that looms above us. Storms mean clear skies and fresh air, for all is well again, right? Maybe things aren’t as pristine as they seem.

David Whitman, a research professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, explains that a snowstorm followed by a few days of clear skies sets up a “cold-air pool”. Whitman says that these cold fronts and snow storms cause cold temperatures near the ground. As air temperatures in the afternoon become warmer, pollutants mix and are carried over the mountains away from the Wasatch Front. This causes temporary “clean air”. But, when one of these cold-air pools sets up, there is less vertical mixing and pollutants become trapped within the valley. Snowstorms are simply a cover up, not a solution for Utah’s pollution problem.

Additionally, pollutants and temperature could be changing the snowfall more than we thought.

It’s widely known that dust and pollutants cause the snow to melt faster, but the U’s Atmospheric Science Department conducts research and experiments to see just how pollutants such as dust, aerosols and carbon gas emissions affect snowfall and snowflake formation. The studies, led by Professor John Horel, David Whitman, Tim Garrett and others, show that crystal structures are dependent on chemical influence and temperature. A change in these variables changes the structure. According to the studies, not only do pollutants make snow melt faster, but these added environmental variables make it more difficult to form in the first place.

Our Wasatch Front is famous for its signature fluffy, powdery snow. Utah’s desert climate and dry weather conditions give us the claim to fame of “The Greatest Snow on Earth,” but our world famous powder has to form under the correct conditions. A snowflake’s water content determines its shape and heaviness. More pollution means warmer weather, and warmer weather means more moisture in the air, which leads to heavier snow.

What does this mean for the future of snow in Utah? It could mean more artificial snow needed each year to keep resorts running. With rising temperatures, this also could mean less world famous powder and shorter seasons. While snow can be produced in a lab, a changing climate might forever change our renowned powder.

a.winter@wasatchmag.com

Photo by Carolyn Webber

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Patagonia withdraws from Outdoor Retailer

Patagonia, Inc., who threatened last month to leave Outdoor Retailer, pulled the cord. In a press release issued today, the outdoor clothing and gear company announced that it will not be attending the retail show in Utah anymore.

The action came from a resolution Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed last Friday, urging the Trump administration to rescind the Bears Ears National Monument. A statement signed by Rose Marcario, President and CEO of Patagonia, says, “Because of the hostile environment [elected officials] have created and their blatant disregard for Bears Ears National Monument and other public lands, the backbone of our business, Patagonia will no longer attend the Outdoor Retailer show in Utah and we are confident other outdoor manufacturers and retailers will join us in moving our investment to a state that values our industry and promotes public lands conservation.”

Founder and former CEO of the company Yvon Choiunard released a statement last month threatening to leave if Gov. Herbert continued to sell public lands off to the “highest bidder.” While no other companies have officially stated that they will be leaving, it’s likely that more companies will follow suit.

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

Photo courtesy of Patagonia

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#AltPoliticalActivism, Outdoor Industry Joins the Political Fight for Public Lands

The border between Zion National Park and Springdale, UT, separates more than just federal and private sectors. It draws the line between the outdoors and the outdoor industry. All along the main road in Springdale companies sit, drawing their business from the millions of visitors who flock to Zion every month. Here you can buy food, there you can rent gear, and over here you can get a tour guide.

Even away from national parks, companies produce and sell huge amounts of gear and apparel to meet the demands of an increasingly outdoorsy population. The outdoor industry is a massive entity driving around $646 billion in consumer spending, employing more Americans than the finance and insurance industry (6.1 million compared to 5.8 million) and growing five percent a year on average. However, it doesn’t matter if that company is located in New Jersey or New Mexico, both rely on a central asset: the outdoors.

When this comes under attack, so does the livelihood of every outdoor company. Instead of sitting idly by, many companies have taken action against environmentally destructive policies and campaigned for legislation to protect natural areas. Lately, this political activism is on the rise. More and more companies are feeling the urge to speak up, and still more are acting on that urge.

Just a few weeks ago, more than 100 of the industry’s biggest names committed to fighting for public lands together, signing a “Protect Our Public Lands” petition. The North Face, Patagonia, REI, and the Outdoor Industry created and signed it, and many others issued statements calling for governments (both state and federal) to recognize the cultural and economic significance of wild areas and favor legislation supporting them.

In the past, companies in the industry did not directly unite like this. In establishing Bears Ears National Monument, for example, Patagonia worked separately from other companies to run their campaign. Environmental director Rob Hunter explains how they “used all [their] modes of communication to reach [their] customers” and inform them about the need to conserve Bears Ears. They also shot a movie, “Defined by the Line”, starring climber and conservationist Josh Ewing with the aim of “combining our sport interest, in this case climbing, with our conservation interest, in this case public land protection.” No doubt, both these efforts helped push Bears Ears into the eyes of a much larger audience, securing its protection as a national monument.

Now, companies are combining forces and ramping up their political engagement. Those who signed the “Protect Our Public Lands” petition called for the Utah state government to stop their efforts to privatize Bears Ears. Utah leadership is preparing to sue the federal government to remove the designation — which they call a gross abuse of power-, and place the land under the state control.

The “Protect Our Public Lands” petition best sums up worries of many outdoor companies when it says that if public lands are given to states they “might sell them to the highest bidder.” It again summarizes the general consensus of the industry with the words “public lands should remain in public hands.” The Utah have government has not heard these worries, despite the use of previously successful tactics like petitions and social campaigns, which were both used to establish Bears Ears as a national monument. A more aggressive form of activism is needed, and a few companies are answering the call.

Founder and former Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf issued an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune calling for Outdoor Retailer (OR), the biannual outdoor industry trade show to “leave the state in disgust” if changes are not made. Shortly after, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, echoed Metcalf’s statements and threatened that, “Patagonia’s choice to return for future shows will depend on the Governor’s actions.” Patagonia’s current CEO, Rose Marcario, stands with the founder’s words.

While the current Black Diamond CEO is not planning on leaving, Patagonia is inspiring others to follow their lead. Twenty years ago, Metcalf organized the effort to relocate OR and, with one of the largest outdoor companies backing him, the odds are good it’ll happen. The economic ramifications for Utah will not be light. Each year, OR brings in about $20 million in direct consumer spending. More importantly, it marks Salt Lake City as the outdoor industry’s home base. Losing this could seriously deteriorate the $12 billion outdoor industry residing in Utah. Essentially, OR provides a lot of leverage for the industry’s fight.

This kind of ramped up action is indicative of the way companies are getting involved politically today, and Twitter has become their soap boxes. Any political developments contrary to the pro-environment beliefs of these corporations is sure to provoke a few negative tweets. The North Face, for example, tweeted about the protection of public lands using “#ProtectOurPublicLands” with a link to their statement. They even took a stance on the Women’s Marches, tweeting “We stand with the incredible women on our team and all over the world marching for equality today.” Chris Steinkamp, executive director of Protect our Winters (POW), views Twitter as another means of political activism. His initiative, as stated on the organization’s website, is aimed at “mobilizing the outdoor sports community against climate change.” His biggest target as of late? President Trump, who himself denies the existence of climate change. Frustrated that traditional petitioning methods weren’t working, Steinkamp decided to “go after him on Twitter.” POW’s “Twitter Blizzard” inspired over 5,000 tweets at the then president elect to urge him to maintain the Paris Climate Agreement. A quick scroll through POW’s feed today will show similar attempts at smaller politicians to address climate change in their decisions.

POW is also launching a CEO Alliance this year, which will connect CEOs from companies who want to do more to make a difference but aren’t sure how. “Businesses are now understanding that it is their responsibility to speak out,” Steinkamp says. “It’s one thing to get a company to sign a petition, but getting a CEO to stand up, it personalizes it and there is more commitment.”

Photo courtesy of Ben Duke

The group doing perhaps the most work politically is the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA). Unlike most members of the industry, OIA is not a traditional company. They don’t sell goods or market experiences, rather they advocate for the betterment of the industry as a whole. They are the closest thing to an industry-wide lobbyist group the outdoors have.

Amy Roberts, Executive Director of the OIA, says their main job is to, “[bring] together the collective voice of the industry so we can achieve more as a unified industry and have a larger voice than if individual companies chart their own course.” Their very existence is a testament to the increased political activism within the industry. They have an office and permanent staff in our nation’s capital and hold an annual Capitol Summit event with leaders of the industry in D.C.

“We have seen threats to public lands in the last few years, and we’ve definitely seen efforts by some leadership in Congress to suggest that we should sell them off,” she says. As the threat increases, more and more companies are willing to stand up.

Even smaller, local companies are finding ways to get involved. While most cannot run major campaigns they can make significant differences in their communities. Snowbird Ski Resort, for example, recently hired an environmental director, who helped the resort launch a carpool incentive program called RIDE. By rewarding those who carpool or take public transportation, they are taking a stance to fight against the chronic winter inversion. The flame under these companies is partly what’s going on in Washington, but also because of their customers’ reactions to it.

Photo courtesy of Chris Segel

“People are understanding millennials and understanding what makes them tick,” Steinkamp says. “We are speaking to 35-year-old skiers and snowboarders, and those guys care. They want the brands they spend their money on to care, too.”

Mass social campaigns, films, petitions, and a unique utilization of social media- all organized by ski bum, tree hugger, and dirt bag-founded companies — have given power back to these people. They are fighting, harder than ever, to protect the places that define themselves and the nation as a whole. With an industry almost twice the size of the oil and gas industry backing them, it’s fair to say they’ve got a fighting chance.

n.halberg@wasatchmag.com

c.webber@wasatchmag.com

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