It’s likely you’re reading this from the couch or the dining room table and not your desk at the office. At least that’s what our days are looking like. It’s fair to say this is not what we had envisioned for the spring of 2020. We were charging into April with dreams and plans and hopes. Congress was this close to passing legislation that would have fully funded the Land and Water Conservation Fund and given land management agencies the resources to address the overwhelming backlog of maintenance projects—a finish line we’ve been running toward for years.
New Yorker writer Kathryn Schulz summed it up on Twitter: “It’s so interesting, how poorly we understand but how readily we feel exponential change. That’s why two weeks ago feels like an eternity: because the rate of change right now so far outstrips the passage of time.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought uncertainty to every aspect of our lives, from the health of a parent or grandparent to your next haircut. Let alone the dashed plans for skiing well into May. We all know the mountains will be there when this is over—and how sweet those future turns will be. But right now, we’re in the thick of this. We’re staying at home. We might be physically separated, but we take strange comfort that we are in this together. The loss is universal. Every single person on this planet is dealing with the upheaval that the novel coronavirus brought upon us.
Here’s the part where we tell you that, in spite of the real-life horror that is unfolding in New York City right now and is fast spreading to every part of the country, the Trump Administration is nevertheless still moving ahead with its agenda to deregulate the environment and clearcut a path for resource extraction. The Council on Environmental Quality is still moving ahead to methodically gut the National Environmental Policy Act. Worse, citing COVID-19as an excuse, the Environmental Protection Agency is turning a blind eye on polluters, allowing corporations to dump hazardous waste and pump poison into the air without any penalty and leaving those who wish to hold them accountable with no recourse.
Alarming, yes. But we want you to know that we’re on it, so you don’t have to be.
While you keep the focus on your daily lives—your family’s health, your household budget, homeschooling your children—we are keeping vigilant watch over legislation and policy changes in Washington, D.C. and public land management closer to home, working with our partners to sound alarms and fight for environmental protections and integrity.
We are also in contact with land management agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, as public lands continue to shut down across the country, part of the precautions to fight COVID-19 infections. Look, we’re not going to sugar-coat it: These shutdowns concern us. They are critical and necessary for the moment we are in, but as soon as agencies begin to gradually reopen public lands, we will be there to support them. Perhaps we will even be able to help them implement some of the things we’ve been talking about, like snow rangers stationed at trailheads to help people to maintain appropriate social distancing and follow Leave No Trace guidelines. We’re looking for silver linings right now.
This is a rough time. This month will forever be a reference point in our lives. We are all trying our best. And we will get through it, together.
Winter Wildlands Alliance
Photo: Adam Clark
The Crux of a Lifetime
Coronavirus has squared off our simple desire to go outside and into the mountains with urgent questions. Does the recommendation to “go outside” include backcountry skiing? What if the nearest park is a two-hour walk across a concrete wasteland? If the mountains are 30 minutes away, does that count as staying home? Should I park my car at a trailhead, even if there are many other cars and people tailgating, as long as I try to keep my personal distance?
These are questions we are all asking. But the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and even our land management agencies are not answering clearly and directly. Instead, they’ve put the onus on us, as individuals, to make decisions that on the one hand satisfy our primal urge and our basic need to get outside, and on the other serve the collective good. People make different decisions. You and I might stay home, but our neighbor will go skiing. Unfortunately, that difference of judgement matters a whole lot right now.
Photo: Ben Irey
Help Us Protect the Great Burn for Wildlife
If there’s one thing you can do for public lands right now, it’s this.
For more than a century, the Great Burn has largely been left alone to its natural rhythms and cycles. As a result, today it is a land of abundance. Its 275,000 acres are brimming with forests, alpine lakes, and remote mountains that provide habitat for wildlife. Especially for species like wolverines and mountain goats, who depend on rugged and remote habitat for survival, the Great Burn is an important refuge. It is also a key point of connection between wildlands in the north and those in central Idaho: From the Crown of the Continent, through the Selkirk and Cabinet-Yaak ecosystems, the Great Burn is a bridge to the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, and, eventually, the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Because it connects such a large block of undisturbed habitat, the Great Burn is a likely route for grizzly bears to return to central Idaho.
Places like the Great Burn are incredibly rare in our modern world, even in some of the most mountainous regions of our country like Idaho and Montana. It has a long legacy of conservation: the Great Burn has been recommended for protection as a Wilderness area for more than 40 years. Much of it would be Wilderness today if President Reagan hadn’t pocket vetoed a Montana Wilderness bill in 1988.
Now, as part of a forest plan revision, the Forest Service is considering whether to allow snowmobiles in the Great Burn and to shrink the boundaries of the protected area to allow increased logging and road building. If that happens, there’s no going back.
Chill at Home and Stream the Backcountry Film Festival
We want to thank this season’s filmmakers and film teams for generously offering their films to be included in our national tour as well as our our first ever online Festival, now streaming. We couldn’t do this without them, so please be sure to give them a follow, send them a message if you liked their film, or share what you liked the most about it!
Homeschool with SnowSchool
A note for parents at home with their children right now: Homeschooling is hard work and we want to help with the science lesson. We published a homeschool version of our curriculum for SnowSchool to our website. It’s free. It’s fun. It’s designed for a backyard or a local park covered in snow, and we also have a way for kids to engage with the SnowEx mission at NASA—all with social distancing.
A few book recommendations from our staff for this next month at home, plus a couple articles to read.
From David Page, Advocacy Director: “The Worst Journey in the World,” by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, the youngest member of Scott’s 1910 ill-fated Antarctica expedition. One of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite books and still perhaps the best adventure memoir of all time. Funny, inspiring, epic in the original sense, and thick enough to easily fill 14 days of hard quarantine. Makes the bitter suffering of not being able to go backcountry skiing seem petty indeed.
From Todd Walton, Executive Director: “Shop Class As Soulcraft : An Inquiry into the Value of Work” by Matthew B. Crawford, for inspiration to get some projects done around the house.
From Hilary Eisen, Policy Director: “The Big Burn,” By Timothy Egan, for a gripping story about the beginnings of the Forest Service and the event that shaped the way the agency fights wildfires and also molded the landscape we’re fighting for today (see above.)
From Kerry McClay, director of SnowSchool: “Sharing Nature With Children” by Joseph Cornell. This is the classic nature awareness guidebook for parents and teachers with springtime activities that we can do with kids in the backyard and on nearby nature explorations.
Now is the time to support your local ski shop. This is the story of the overwhelming power of a community that rallied to save Alpenglow, a beloved ski shop in Tahoe City, California.
Krista Langlois wrote an essay for Adventure Journal that perfectly captured our dilemma and angst about going outside right now: “Today, while a global pandemic unfolded, I took my dog for a walk. It was the only 30 minutes of the day I was disconnected from the news, and it was deeply calming to listen to birds singing and to breathe the chilly spring air, washed clean by two days of rain. And then I noticed fresh mountain bike tracks on the muddy trails. And more than one pile of dog shit.” Read the rest.