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Environment

May 10, 2019

Protect Our Winters: Leading the Outdoor Industry in Political Push

Environmental activist group Protect Our Winters gets political to push climate policy. In Colorado, a climate battleground state, a new bill aims to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

The Problem

In 2018, pro snowboarder and Colorado native Jake Black traveled to Chamonix and witnessed the recession of the Mer de Glace. For over a century, France’s “Sea of Ice” has chronicled the perseverent march of climate change; since 1850, the glacial snout has retreated by two kilometers. An iconic cable-car brings passengers from Chamonix to the foot of the ice flow—at least it did in 1988, when the platform was constructed. Today, visitors must disembark the platform and descend over 350 metal stairs to reach the ice due to its greatly reduced volume. By 2040, glaciologists predict that the Mer de Glace’s outflow will have recessed so far upvalley that the cable car platform will deposit riders at the start of what may be a 1.2km hike to the ice.

Cart Ludwig Hackert’s “Vue de la Mer de Glace”, 1781, via Wikimedia Commons.
Mer de Glace today. Photo by Lexe-I via Flickr.

The recession of the Mer de Glace is starkly visible—in Colorado, where Black was born and resides, the impacts of climate change can be less obvious. The state’s landlocked location may provide a measure of insulation from the impacts of climate change compared to maritime locales like the Pacific Northwest. But continentality alone won’t protect the Centennial State from climate shocks. According to research at the University of Colorado Boulder, the West has endured the largest increase in average daytime temperatures anywhere in the United States. At the same time, higher temperatures, earlier spring snowmelt and increased summer drought, has caused the the snowpack to atrophy. Consequently, the snowsports industry will feel the heat as warming temperatures deprave snowpack totals and truncate the winter season. Skiing, Colorado’s second-largest industry, is beholden to our treatment of the climate.

The POW team inspires climate action and provides tools for advocacy at the 2019 Burton US Open in Vail, Colorado

Meet Protect Our Winters

Black is a spokesman and activist for Boulder-based Protect our Winters (POW), a 501c(3) non-profit founded by pro snowboarder Jeremy Jones in 2007. Catalyzed by his experiences in the world’s most magnificent mountain ranges, Jones launched POW to advocate for the climate that enabled his snowboarding career. He understood that in no sport is the symbiosis between man and environment quite as pervasive as skiing. Accordingly, Protect Our Winters has espoused progressive climate policy in Colorado since its founding. Part of their stratagem is building a base of informed citizens through educational seminars like the “Hot Planet/Cool Athletes” elementary school program. While individual consumer actions like swapping old light bulbs for LEDs and taking shorter showers are commendable, to “make America deep again” as the group’s eprigram demands, climate change must be addressed in sweeping top-down legislature.

POW founder Jeremy Jones. Photo via Red Bull Content Pool.

POW is reaching for such systemic change. Through an offshoot known as the Action Fund with 501c(4) status, the group has legal leeway to lobby Washington’s politicians. During the 2018 Midterms, POW Action Fund published a voter guidebook with climate-friendly focus. By partnering with keystone corporations like REI, Patagonia, and The North Face, POW leverages the outdoor industry’s might in support of progressive climate policy.

A POW delegation attends and testifies at the House committee hearing of HB-1261 at the Colorado Capitol. L-R Anja Semanco, Sam Killgore, Arielle Gold, Clare Gallagher, Lindsay Bourgoine, Brady Collings.
Jake Black, POW Programs Manager discusses his involvement in POW and the state of policies in Colorado on Earth Day at the Burton Store in Boulder, Colorado.

POW in Colorado

Their latest campaign in Colorado is a triple whammy focused on efforts to clean up the state’s energy grid, regulate methane emissions, and facilitate the adoption of low and zero-emission vehicles. They’ve been an outspoken promoter of House Bill 19-1261 (HB 1261). HB 1261, officially the “Climate Action Plan to Reduce Pollution”, was introduced by the Energy & Environment House committee in late March in the doldrums of federal climate policy. According to Black, the bill would promulgate a statewide reduction in carbon emissions by 90% by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. Serendipitously, as of Earth Day, the bill passed the first round of bureaucratic scrutiny in the Senate and awaits another round in the House before landing on the desk of climate-friendly Governor Polis. The proposed regulations are in keeping with Polis’s campaign promise to power Colorado with 100% renewable energy by 2040.

In Colorado, politics and business have united in a rare coalition of climate action; coterminous with HB 1261’s introduction, Xcel Energy has pledged to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2030 compared to 2005 levels and move to 100% carbon-free electricity generation by 2050. Last year, the energy titan rolled out its Colorado Energy Plan, which divulges intent to shutter two coal-fired power plants and invest $2.5 billion in wind and solar projects.

POW’s partnership with legendary Colorado ski resort Arapahoe Basin is another merger with paradigm-shifting potential. “A Bay” representative Mike Nathan explains the sustainable ethos of the resort, which has been in operation since 1946. On-site, enrollment in the aforementioned Xcel Energy’s Renewable Connect program enabled the resort to power all of its snowmakers and a portion of its chairlifts with solar. Off-site, Nathan says, the resort is raising its voice. “We engage in numerous direct advocacy efforts, including letters and phone calls of support to elected officials supporting strong climate policy at the state and national levels. We’ve also provided in-person testimony at a number of hearings and records of decision here in Colorado supporting things like increased zero-emission vehicle standards, cleaner power at the utility scale, and public lands conservation measures,” he attests. They have also co-hosted climate science panels with POW. Evidence of the union adorns Arapahoe Basin employee uniforms; when it comes to climate advocacy, exponents literally wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Climate rally with representatives from POW and Arapahoe Basin.
POW features on the Arapahoe Basin Ski Resort employee uniform. Photo provided by Mike Nathan.

 Leading the Outdoor Industry to Washington D.C.

At the Colorado state level, climate action gets two green thumbs up, but national climate policy has regressed in the Trump Era. While the outdoor industry trumpets its formidable GDP—almost $900 billion—it has been hesitant to throw its weight around in politics. By contrast, the oil and gas industry, among others, have allocated significant sums to lobby politicians. Figures reported by the Senate Office of Public Records show an aggregate $124 million spent by oil and gas entities in 2018 alone, while the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), outdoor recreation’s political mouthpiece, spent just $320,000 in the same period. POW’s Action Fund mobilized $70,000 in 2018 federal elections. The majority of their efforts were spent in opposition to Republican Tim McClintock, who was ultimately reelected to represent California’s 4th congressional district.

Brady Collings, Vice President of Marketing at Spyder Active Sports testifies in support of HB-1261 at a house committee hearing.

McClintock’s reelection underscores the financial gamble of lobbying; POW Action Fund invested heavily on a failed effort. There are other ways to be a political player. Self-proclaimed “activist company” Patagonia has avoided the pitfalls of lobbying by instead awarding grants to grassroots groups and pressuring legislators to protect public lands. The retail brand’s bold political strategy is paying off; Patagonia raked in more than a $1 billion in revenue last year. Their deliberately publicized actions are effective because the retailer is highly visible to its consumers. By contrast, oil and gas companies are a black box to those who purchase their product. Big Oil’s formlessness is reflected in their primary political strategy of lobbying, an opaque process. Still, Protect Our Winters knows that the outdoor industry needs a financial foot behind-the-scenes in Washington to supplement the brazen political battles.

Recycling at Arapahoe Basin.

POW is leading the charge, but if the outdoor industry wants to make good on sustainability promises and engender federal action on climate, it must propel a convincing portion of the oft-touted $900 billion towards Capitol Hill.

 

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

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Environment

May 14, 2019

Bringing Kiwi Back to Wellington

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird.

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WRITTEN BY

Sean Verity

This article was made available to The Outdoor Journal via a press release by Tourism New Zealand.

As New Zealand announces a new plan to reverse the decline of the iconic Kiwi bird, Wellingtonians are already lining up to save their emblematic bird. Wellingtonians are known for their love of flat whites and their passion for the arts. But there’s a new pastime that’s rapidly growing in New Zealand’s capital and all around the country.

Assembling and setting traps for rats, stoats and other predators in their own backyards. It’s a somewhat unlikely hobby, but in Wellington alone, there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management.  They’re all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world and a paradise for native birds such as the tīeke (Saddleback), hihi (stitchbird), kākā, kākāriki and toutouwai (North Island robin). 

In Wellington alone there are now more than 70 community groups involved in pest management all aiming at making their home town the first predator-free capital city in the world. Photo by: Capital Kiwi

Ever since conservation project Zealandia created a fully fenced 225-hectare ecosanctuary within the city limits in 1999, native birdlife has returned to many suburbs and Wellingtonians have embraced their avian friends. The groups are part of a groundswell of community conservation initiatives sweeping New Zealand and delivering fantastic results.

“Where once it would have been a remarkable sight to see a single kākā (a boisterous native parrot) in the wilderness of our mountain ranges, we now have literally hundreds of them across Wellington city, screeching across city skies,” says self-confessed “bird nerd” Paul Ward. Buoyed by the birdsong orchestra he thought, “Why stop there? Let’s bring back New Zealand’s most iconic bird, the Kiwi.” “The only time I’d seen a Kiwi growing up was in a zoo, and that’s not right for our national taonga (treasure),” he insists. 

The flightless birds with hair-like feathers and the chopstick bill have been absent from Wellington for over a century due to the loss of their habitat and the spread of predators. Ward’s ambitious project Capital Kiwi hopes to lure Kiwi back to the Wellington region within the next decade. Approximately 4,400 traps will be set on 23,000 hectares of public and private land stretching from the outskirts of town to the coast.

“Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime”

As long as stoats, ferrets and weasels are around, Kiwi chicks have hardly any chance of surviving their first year.  An average of 27 Kiwis are killed by predators each day according to charity ‘Kiwis for Kiwi’ which supports community-led initiatives around the country. They warn that at this rate “Kiwi may disappear from the mainland in our lifetime.” 

But projects in Rakiura / Stewart Island in the south of New Zealand, Whangarei Heads in the north and Whakatane in the Bay of Plenty have shown that with the involvement of the community as kaitiaki (guardians) it is possible to grow a wild Kiwi population. 

The project Capital Kiwi hopes to bring New Zealand’s iconic birds back to Wellington by setting more than 4,000 traps in the hills on the outskirts of the city. Photo by: Capital Kiwi.

Michelle Impey, from Kiwis for Kiwi explains that one of the challenges of Kiwi conservation is “getting people to understand and care about something they can’t see and don’t experience.”

Kiwis are nocturnal, and with only a few exceptions live far removed from cities, towns and villages. “Bringing Kiwi closer to where Kiwis live makes them top of mind, completely relevant, and creates a sense of ownership with those who are privileged enough to have them living on or near their land,” Impey adds. She hopes that the new project will create “a city of Kiwi conservationists” who feel a personal attachment to their national bird. 

In August 2018 the government’s Predator Free 2050 initiative, which aims to rid New Zealand of the most damaging introduced predators that threaten the nation’s natural wildlife by 2050, announced their support for Capital Kiwi, committing more than NZ$3.2 million over the next five years.  It may sound like a lot of money, but the other way of looking at this is “What is the cost if we don’t?” Ward ponders.

“Can we, as a nation of Kiwis, afford to let our national icon die and become extinct? What would that say about us as guardians of the taonga (treasure) that makes our country so special and unique?”

https://www.outdoorjournal.com/featured/environment/reaction-european-single-use-plastic-ban/

Ninety-year-old Ted Smith, who lives in the small seaside settlement of Makara just over the hills from Wellington, helped to kick off the project with the setting of the first trap in November. He and his local community started trapping in their backyards a decade ago which resulted in a remarkable increase in birdlife – tūī, kākā, kererū, pūkeko, kingfishers, quails and others. “If we allow Kiwi to die out then we deserve to be called idiots,” he says. Wellingtonians love the vision of having Kiwi rummaging through their gardens and Ward says he’s been overwhelmed with the offers of help and support from the community.  

“We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington”

Capital Kiwi has received hundreds of emails from people keen to help. Schoolchildren are now monitoring tracking tunnels, mountain bikers and trail runners check reserve trap lines on lunchtime rides and families come together to build traps. If the eradication proves successful after three years, the Department of Conservation will look at translocating Kiwi to the hillsides. The hope is that in less than a decade, tourists will be able to post their Kiwi encounters on the outskirts of Wellington on social media, and locals will beam with pride at hearing the shrill call of the country’s iconic birds in their backyards. 

“I would love to be woken up by the sound of the Kiwi. We want to see Kiwi come back into Wellington,” the capital’s Major Justin Lester says. 

The Department of Conservation is backing Capital Kiwi too. “Getting Kiwi back into the hills of Wellington where people can hear them call is a great way to demonstrate what New Zealand could look like if we get rid of the stoats and ferrets,” DOC’s Jack Mace says. 

“It would certainly add another feather to Wellington’s cap as one of the best places to see New Zealand’s unique wildlife.”

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

Cover Photo: New Zealand’s little spotted Kiwi at Zealandia Eco-sanctuary in Wellington. Photo by: Zealandia Eco-sanctuary

 

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