Broads’ Blog Archive
‘Tis the Season to Celebrate the Gift of the Wild
by Suez Jacobson
‘Tis the season of excess, the year-end blowout—a time when our sugar-laden brains mistake frivolous wants for needs that support our well-being. The result is that even if we get all the shiny stuff, we often find ourselves cranky and unsatisfied. Just this morning, on a morning show (not in an ad), I saw a co-host marvel at a silver countertop appliance that roasts marshmallows. Need or want? Not even a want. An absurdity.
Because we’re Broads we know how to roast marshmallows, but we also know that what makes roasted marshmallows (along with the graham crackers and chocolate) worth the sticky fingers is being out in the wild, around a fire with buds who care as much about wild places as we do. It’s the love that prompts us to read up on issues, write letters to policy makers, clean up trails, and have some fun. It’s about the camaraderie, the jokes, the absurd tales, and the joy of life—not another piece of metal that we don’t even have a place to store.
We’ve all been told and heard it repeated many times (more if you’ve ever had to steer children in the right direction) that it’s not about the money. But then on the car ahead of us, we see the bumper sticker that says, “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” We know it’s wrong, but our culture glorifies monetary success above happiness. That might be because happiness is an elusive concept that we can’t count or keep in a bank account. But when we have it, we know it. And piles of peer-reviewed literature in psychology journals tell us that the more materialistic people are, the more unhappy they are—old and young, all around the world.
Broads also know there’s an antidote to materialism. It’s the joy of the wild. Again, studies in psychological journals show that the experience of awe, most easily found in nature, turns our selfish tendencies outwards, making us more prosocial and apt to value the common good and each other in a more meaningful way. The awe of nature makes us humble, happy, and connected.
So, this holiday season turn off the TV, don’t go shopping—put on your boots or your tennie runners and give yourself and your chums a big package of nature.
Then sit down and watch the film “Wild Hope” (It’s free! Watch it here.) This film documents the research on the dead end of materialism and a consumer society that is driving climate change. And it demonstrates the power of nature to produce awe and motivate us to reduce consumerism in our own lives, and instead work to protect wild places. In these days of excess, let’s rejoice in the choice to be modest, to reduce to save our planet, and put our love of the wild to work for its protection.
Paddling Through Protected Wilderness
by Suez Jacobson
As paddles gurgle, punctuating a luxurious stillness, our canoes meander down the Green River through Labyrinth Canyon into a place of awe. Out, away, on the water, dwarfed by towering sandstone walls and towers, our brains settle, and our bodies’ tensions slide into the thin brown slip of the river. A day on the water blends into night on the shore. With the canoes stowed on the muddy banks, the earth moves away from the heat of the day as the red walls begin to shade us from the day’s sizzling sun. Night invades, and the Milky Way emerges as though the sky god is gently turning the stars’ lights to high beam.
For those of us who live in cities, crammed into tight spaces, rattled by noise, and blinded by lights, it’s a gifted escape into the other.
Labyrinth Canyon is a good news story. In March of 2019, President Trump (yes, that guy) signed the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act into law. Included in that act were more than 100 bills introduced by 50 senators and numerous representatives that would designate 37 new Wilderness Areas in California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah. For Utah, that included the Emery County Public Lands Management Act, which granted Wilderness designation to the west side of the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon. This legislation protects 55,000 acres of Labyrinth Canyon and designates, in accordance with the Wild Scenic Rivers Act, 49 miles of the Green River running from Red Wash to Canyonlands National Park as “scenic.”
The fight for wilderness in Utah continues to be a long hard battle. The first draft of this bill did not include protection for Labyrinth Canyon. Before a compromise was reached, conservation organizations rejected six versions of this bill. In the end Utah’s Senators Mitt Romney and Orin Hatch (now retired) and Representative Curtis joined conservation organizations including Great Old Broads for Wilderness, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, and local residents in Emery County to support the bill. (Representative Mike Lee from Utah voted against it.)
It’s not a perfect solution. The east side of the canyon and many other amazing landscapes in Utah still need the protection.
“One bill seldom solves every issue, and we still have work to do,” Tim Peterson of the Grand Canyon Trust commented. “A large swath of Emery County is left unprotected by this legislation, including thousands of exceptional rock-art panels and threatened cultural sites attributed to the Fremont culture that are still in the crosshairs of the oil and gas industry.”
That protection and protection for wild lands in other Utah counties, including Grand County on the east side of Labyrinth Canyon, would come through the passage of America’s Red Rocks Wilderness Act. So, our fight goes on.
But for a few days in the quiet of the red rock country, awe and gratitude combined to give solace and joy.
Scorching Campout Brings Broads and U.S. Forest Service Together
by Jason Vaughn
Anybody who’s spent time in the wilderness knows that if you take the time to listen, nature is always telling a story. The sound of a stream tumbling over rocks, the sunlight glistening through the trees, birds singing, insects buzzing—it’s all part of a greater continuing dialogue between life and the world that sustains it.
Then there are times when nature really wants to make a point.
Such was the case this past June when the Willamette Valley Broadband hosted a three-day “See the Trees, Save the Forest, Heal the Planet—A Broad Base Camp” event in Oregon’s Cascade Range. There were guest speakers, field training sessions, hikes, and a great deal of discussion on the importance of old-growth forests in the defense against climate change.
And nature certainly made sure that nobody forgot about that last part, courtesy of a brutal “heat dome” that gave the entire Pacific Northwest record high temperatures and sparked wildfires so numerous and intense that most of the U.S. spent the summer looking up into smoky skies.
The typically-temperate Willamette National Forest was no exception, with highs during the campout pushing the century mark—even deep among the old-growth Douglas fir trees.
“It was ironic, given that the event was about climate change and the importance of trees,” says Willamette Valley Broadband leader Cyndi Anderson. But there was no way the heat was going to stop the Broads from getting outside. Cyndi said that the forest provided plenty of shade, and that a nearby swimming hole made for a great break each afternoon—in fact, they only had one participant cancel due to the heat.
“It’s a testament to the toughness of Broads,” she says. “We knew the heat was coming, but we still showed up!”
Cyndi says the heat was worth every moment. In fact, the event was everything she says she hoped for—and so much more.
“It was fabulous, really good,” she says. “Even though the campout happened during the hottest days in Oregon history.”
The event featured lots of education and fun—including a presentation from the Climate Education and Stewardship program developed by the Broads’ national office to show the role landscapes such as forests play in climate change mitigation and resiliency.
But Cyndi says that an unexpected highlight of the campout was the opportunity to have good, meaningful discussion with U.S. Forest Service staff from the Sweet Home Ranger District.
As with most things these days, it started on a Zoom call.
“It was kind of serendipity,” says Cyndi. “I was on a Zoom call with several federal agencies, including the Forest Service. And this Zoom meeting is where I met a ranger from the Sweet Home Ranger District.”
“I asked her if she wanted to be involved with the campout, and she said sure!” says Cyndi.
As it turned out, the entire Sweet Home Ranger District’s interdisciplinary team—including everyone from a botanist to a road engineer—came along as well. They spent an entire day with the participants, discussing what they do and how it relates to forest management. And in return, the Broads were able to explain what they do, and what their concerns were for forest management.
This relationship building is important, as the Forest Service develops a draft environmental assessment for a proposed upcoming timber sale as part of the Quartzville Middle Santiam Project. This project covers a 90,000-acre area, with about 13,000 acres being proposed for timber harvesting. The Willamette Valley Broads have been field checking and documenting the proposed timber sale area for over a year to identify specific features that might save trees and critical habitat.
Once the environmental assessment comes out, there will be just 30 days for public comment. Cyndi says her Broadband will be ready.
“As a result of the campout and establishing a relationship with the Forest Service, when the environmental assessment for the proposed timber sale comes out later this year, we’ll have more information to make our comments more relevant,” says Cyndi. “Now we know what they are looking for in terms of detailed public comments they can use in the forest management decision-making process.”
“It was good for the Forest Service people, too,” says Cyndi with a laugh. “We have a bit of a reputation, and some of them weren’t sure they wanted to meet with us.”
But after a full day of hiking, learning, and discussions, a positive new relationship is growing between the rangers and the Broadband. In fact, it went so well that the Forest Service staff actually stayed an extra hour or two just to talk shop with the campers.
This budding new relationship could be vital going forward as forest and logging management plans are developed. Cyndi says that in the months since the event, the ranger district and the Willamette Valley Broads have conducted several hikes and driving tours through proposed logging parcels in the forest, with Broads having the opportunity to learn more about the district’s forest management, and in return share their perspective on the importance of preserving old-growth forests.
“We live in the land of big trees,” says Cyndi. “We have the Cascades to the east and the Coast Range to the west, and what we say around here is that forest defense is climate defense.”
Old-growth forests like those of the Pacific Northwest are incredible carbon sinks, where carbon dioxide is captured and locked away in the trees and soil. It’s estimated that forests worldwide remove nearly a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans pump into the atmosphere, substantially slowing the effects of climate change.
Forests on public lands in the United States store around 3 trillion tons of carbon alone. That’s more carbon than is stored in U.S. fossil fuel reserves.
“If we can save even one big tree, it’s worth the effort,” says Cyndi. “But hopefully we can save more than that.”
Swimming the Wild
by Suez Jacobson
Getting into the wild reminds me how important the work we do is for the places we work to protect—and the joy they give us. And going with another Broad, as I did one day in early July, also reminds me of the gratitude I have for the connections Broads has given me—the hiking pals that become harder and harder to find as we age. That experience inspired the following poem.
Columbine Lake – Indian Peaks Wilderness
Three-plus miles and
Over a thousand feet gain on
A trail brilliantly dappled with wildflowers,
Rimmed by gurgling streams, and
Decorated with enormous rock sentinels.
We arrive – Columbine Lake.
Rimmed with pines,
Guarded by granite peaks.
The shining alpine pool speaks.
Inviting me to swim.
My boots, damp socks come off first.
Testing the water.
Fooled with a toe dip
In the shallows. “Not so cold.”
Ignoring cautions from others,
Dripping, on the bank,
I commit to accept
The flirtatious call.
Tiny beings, so tiny I’m not sure what they are
Until I hear the distinct mosquito whine,
Circle my head looking for flesh.
I slip my gaudy pink and yellow plaid hiking shirt over my head
Leaving my dull gray tank top on.
I wriggle my gray hiking pants over my bare feet, and.
Place my cap on my boots
Putting my glasses in the cap’s cradle.
No bold bravado.
Carefully, I establish bare-foot traction
On the ledge of semi-slimy rocks.
Submerging only a foot or so
The lake sends a colder message, perhaps a warning.
No heed. Rather,
I fold my knees and push off
Letting the water take me
As I float out onto my back.
My breath sticks as my feet begin to kick.
I know if I let my head fall back,
The cold will sink deeper,
But I do, letting my head rest,
I swim some backstroke, my stroke.
My eyes turn to the sky,
Deep blue, with a tinge of fire smoke from far away,
Interrupted with summery white piles of fluff in one direction
And gray-bottomed storm threats in the other.
I think about lightening and rain.
But I am deeply happy,
An exhilarating freeze of joy in being
Held by my slippery frigid friend,
Joined together in a celebration of alert delight.
In minutes, my toes begin to numb
I am not breaking any records or
Swimming any distance.
I am just here to be.
And so, I slip out.
Good News on the Tongass and the Roadless Rule
Update! While the Roadless Rule was reinstated, another recent ruling overturned the Biden administration’s ban on new oil and gas leases. How this impacts the Tongass and Arctic Wildlife Refuge remains to be seen. HERE is another article about recent activities on this topic.
by Suez Jacobson
As mandated by the Wilderness Act, the US Forest Service completed an inventory of roadless areas in US forests in 2000. This led President Clinton to sign the Roadless Rule in 2001. This rule “prohibits road construction, reconstruction, and timber harvest in inventoried roadless areas.”
But almost as soon as this rule was signed, there were court challenges from states wanting exemption from the rule. This led to the development of specific state roadless rules in Colorado and Idaho with small exemptions from the rule. Alaska also challenged the roadless rule wanting to exempt the Tongass National Forest. In 2016, the Supreme Court refused to hear a final effort from the state of Alaska to exempt the Tongass. That should have been the end of it. However, on October 28, 2020, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) under President Trump announced that a large section of the Tongass would be exempt from the 2001 Roadless Rule under a special state rule for Alaska.
Thankfully, the Biden administration has reversed that decision. In mid-July 2021, the USDA announced that it will reinstate roadless rule protections for the nine million acres in the Tongass that the Trump administration had opened to logging (and the roads that go with it) and ensure that no logging will take place in old growth forests.
The Tongass is habitat to a large number of wild creatures—more than 400 species—including the largest population of black bears in the world.
This forest is also a critical carbon sink. The over 800-year-old Sitka spruce trees along with the red and yellow cedars and Western Hemlock store millions of tons of carbon dioxide that would be released if they were logged.
This good news is the product not only of a change in the administration but also activism on the part of many individuals and conservation groups like Great Old Broads for Wilderness. 125,000 people submitted public comments and sent letters to representatives and to the White House.
Broads advocates for roadless areas to remain roadless and works to establish the highest level of protection for these roadless areas by passing legislation that designates them as wilderness.
Pacific Northwest (PNW) Broads Regional Advocacy Team (BRAT)
Lower Snake River “Don’t DAM Salmon” Campaign
It began in 2019. That’s when the Pacific Northwest (PNW) Broads joined in creating public outcry to drive the political will to breach the Lower Snake River dams and restore habitat for endangered salmon and steelhead in the Lower Snake River. Inspired by the “Don’t Dam Salmon Broadwalk” held that year, Broads from the PNW and elsewhere deepened their knowledge about dam operations and the ecological impacts of the Lower Snake River dams.
Calling themselves the “Lower Snake River Dam committee” (LSRD) and adopting the name “Don’t Dam Salmon“ for the campaign, the team formulated educational talking points to use with politicians and media outlets. These points focused on the animals in jeopardy (salmon, steelhead, and orcas), dams and energy issues, freight transportation on the river, and the economics of dam removal. (You can read more at: https://www.greatoldbroads.org/dont-dam-salmon/), they organized lectures, workshops, and films, and engaged the media through interviews, letters in local newspapers, podcasts, and Zoom meetings. They also planned and participated in demonstrations (flotillas, kayaktivism, and marches), created partnerships, and joined legal actions with other not-for-profits with shared goals. These included a tribal organization, Nimiipuu Protecting our Environment, with whom they co-signed letters. In addition, they formed relationships with state Fish and Wildlife managers.
The committee has completed an impressive range of actions—and the list keeps growing. Armed with economic data and fish statistics to support dam removal, they stoked the political will for removal, taking their story to Washington, DC to lobby congressional representatives, including Senator Merkley (D-OR) and Representative Simpson (R-ID) who support salmon recovery. They met with Oregon’s Governor Brown (D), who soon thereafter announced her support for dam breaching and wrote a letter to Washington’s Governor Inslee (D) asking for support for dam removal. Broads submitted more than 100 pages of substantive comments on the Columbia River System Operations Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
This work, in Broads’ fashion—passionate, persuasive, and persistent—has contributed significantly to creating awareness, public outcry, and the political will to restore Mother Earth’s Lower Snake River.
Do you want to help? Contact Pam Conley, Chair for the LSRD committee to join the committee or help in other ways at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why We Fight: A Reflection on the San Juan River FUNdraising trip with Suze Woolf
by Suez Jacobson
It’s a chilly Saturday morning in May. In a parking lot in Blanding, Utah, sixteen older and not-so-older ladies stand listening as five guides, all female, all contrastingly young, from Holiday River Expeditions prepare us for a float down the San Juan River. Most of us know only one or two of the others, and many are not Broads, not yet.
We’re excited to see petroglyphs at the river’s edge in Bluff, launch the boats, and later start painting with Suze Woolf, a professional artist and our oh-so-generous volunteer watercolor instructor. We pile our gear into a heap and the guides pack the boats. Anxiousness coupled with excitement buzzes. Some are worrying about being on their first overnight river trip (they discover it’s wonderful). And some of us, including me, as beginners dabbling in watercolor, not a forgiving medium, are nervous about what we will paint. (We discover it’s fun even if it is challenging.) I worry I will never learn everyone’s name. Yet, I do, and the vibe among the group turns out to be one of the highlights of the trip.
For me, this river trip into landscapes proposed in the original Bears Ears National Monument by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is a soul-restoring reminder why we as Broads fight so hard. Even when the odds seem to be against us—as they were in the last administration—we work to preserve public lands for future generations and protect cultural resources of the Native Americans who lived on these lands long before we as settlers arrived.
Before piling into our rafts and inflatable kayaks, we gawk at the panels of petroglyphs at the boat ramp. It’s an incredible display of images from bighorn sheep to hands, swirls to birds and human-like figures. Though we may not know the precise interpretation of these still-sacred marks, the beauty of creative mental meanderings is moving.
Once on the river, the contrasting heat of the desert sun and the cool river coalesce for perfect floating conditions. After a couple of hours on calm water, a lunch stop at Butler Wash Panel for another feast of petroglyphs, we travel a bit farther and set up camp for a two-night stay at River House. Clouds gather, wind sweeps across the sand, and a few much-needed drops of moisture splatter in the dust.
Suze begins her watercolor demos. Magically, she shows us how to tell the viewer just enough (not everything) to communicate the vast expanse of the sandstone abutting the river. We all try to imitate, some more successful than others.
I set up my tent near the river. Sitting on the rocks I listen to the sounds of the water, the whip of the wind, and soft voices in the distance. The escape from machine noise, which permeates my senses in Denver, is delicious. I know in a visceral way why I support Broads’ work to preserve these places of delight for me, but more importantly, places for the Indigenous people to visit their ancestors, hold sacred ceremonies, and gather medicinal herbs. Soon the sun falls behind the cliffs, the wind gusting me to sleep.
I watch, listening
As the sun floats up
Into the yellowing sky.
Diminutive yellow-breasted chats
Flit and chatter
Among treetops, across the canyon.
The river bubbles in the still morning air
Uncharacteristically, I sit still,
Very still, no agenda,
Relishing the long view of a sacred paradise.
Sunday, we hike to River House. Decorated with pictographs, it’s a moving example of dwelling places of Native Americans. To ponder how these people lived and thrived in this seemingly hostile landscape is remarkable. We hike up San Juan Hill, a famous route of the Mormon pioneers who traveled from Escalante to Bluff, where we are treated to spectacular views of Comb Ridge. Returning to camp, we spend the afternoon painting and re-staking our wind-blown tents. Clouds move in—welcome shade from the hot afternoon sun.
Cloudy, cool wind
Drapes the searing desert.
The joy of quiet.
Monday, we pack up to head to our second campsite at Lime Creek. We will stay there for another two nights and focus on painting. To get there means a long day on the river. A few class II rapids, fantastic canyon-wall scenery, and ibis and egrets entertain us. The joy of paddling through dancing water, endorphins flowing, and being disconnected from technology settles in.
In the evening, sitting on the rocks next to the river (again), I thank Grandmother moon for her watchful eye as she waxes from her crescent beauty. It’s cool again after another hot day.
An uninterrupted night’s sleep and it’s Tuesday morning. Sitting by the green river and the red rocks, neither of which I have learned to paint despite Suze’s amazing demonstrations and generous personal attention, I watch a goose spat on the far bank. It ebbs and flows until one lets the river carry it away to peace. I have found peace here too.
It is our last full day on the river. And though my watercolor skills have not improved measurably, the quiet grandeur of these sacred landscapes has burrowed into my soul. There is more hiking today. We head out up a wide wash and marvel at the rock mushrooms and gnome gardens on the tops of the cliffs. Some remarkable paintings take shape. The magic has touched some of watercolorists, as seen by their inspired paintings.
Star-laced skies mark our final night. We acknowledge the good karma and thank our amazing guides—women of strength, beauty, and ability. We sponsor their Broads’ memberships for five years—after all Broadness is state of mind and though not old, the guides were certainly great.
The importance of the Broads’ work has been clear this whole trip. These are sacred landscapes the previous president slashed from Bears Ears National Monument that we have fought so hard to restore. Being in these places, bearing witness to the historical records of ancient peoples and flowing with the sound of the water bring deep joy and sorrow. Joy for being here, for the healing of wild lands; sorrow for the dismissal by some of the rich history of the Indigenous peoples and their rights. And with that, we resolve to keep pushing the Biden administration to restore protection to these lands—to protect all 1.9 million acres that the five tribes (Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation (Diné), Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Pueblo of Zuni, and Ute Indian Tribe) originally proposed.
It’s time to resume the much-needed healing.
What does Haaland’s Confirmation Mean for Tribal Communities?
Gain insight into the significance of Deb Haaland’s role as Interior Secretary to tribal communities from Broads’ Council of Advisors member Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk. Read her opinion piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune and listen to her recent interview on WNYC public radio.
About Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk
Regina is a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of Towaoc, Colorado, former co-chair for the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and a dedicated public lands advocate. She serves on the Council of Advisors for Great Old Broads for Wilderness.
As a member of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, she was asked to attend a meeting of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition. The group was just beginning to form as an alliance of five sovereign tribal nations to protect the Bears Ears region. As the Coalition gained steam, the Ute Mountain Ute’s Tribal Chairman encouraged Regina’s involvement because she was raised with a traditional connection to the land.
Regina grew up hearing stories from family members about Bears Ears, but this meeting prompted her to do more research. She spoke with elders and relatives in the community of White Mesa in Utah and found her ties to Bears Ears were closer and deeper than she first realized. The elders were pleased she became one of the voices working to protect these sacred lands.
She looked to her grandmother and other elders for guidance and support throughout the development of the plan to achieve designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. When the Trump administration illegally reduced the monument, it upset many of the elders, including her grandmother Stella. One week after Trump slashed the monument boundaries, her grandmother passed away.
Regina’s family ties to White Mesa keep her focused on the latest travesty—a proposal to bring radioactive waste from overseas to be stored at the White Mesa uranium mill facility. She worries about her grandchildren who live in the nearby community and the potential contamination of the region’s precious water.
“Your view changes when you become a grandparent. You see outside yourself and worry about the challenges your grandchildren will face.”
As an advocate, Regina makes sure her facts and experience are valid and true; she determines what is in her power to investigate and what she can truly work toward changing. “It’s never simple, never comfortable. If you don’t feel uncomfortable, there’s really no work being done.”
As Broadbands look to expand their work with native tribes on public land protections, Regina sees her role on Broads’ Council of Advisors as an opportunity to help build those relationships and guide us on best practices to reach out to tribes.
With Regina’s guidance, Broads hopes to expand our perception and understanding of Indigenous interests and concerns, and build alliances with sovereign tribal governments and organizations.
Divestment Sends a Signal: On to a Fossil-Free Future.
by Suez Jacobson
Suez, a member of Broads’ board, is a Ph.D. economist with experience as a financial analyst for Citigroup and Litman/Gregory LLC where she was the co-editor of the nationally recognized newsletter, the “No-Load Fund Analyst.”
On January 28, 2021, President Biden (ah- it feels good to type that) put a “pause” on all oil and gas leasing on US public lands. That’s great news. Emissions from leases on public lands comprise 25% of total US emissions, so preventing further leasing is an important step to reducing the calamity that is climate change. A mandate to stop more drilling and fracking is an effective measure. But so is financial starvation of the fossil fuel companies. That was the impetus for the creation of Fossil Free in 2012. The goal was to convince investors to stop investing in fossil fuel companies and to divest from investments already made. This was the equivalent of stopping new leases and rescinding previous leases. With leases that’s not easy, but it is with financial investments. That’s why more than 1,300 groups, including faith-based, educational, and philanthropic institutions, have divested more than $14.5 trillion.
In December 2020, the Rockefeller Fund announced it would divest its $5 billion, and not invest in fossil fuel companies in the future. And more than 58,000 individuals representing $5.2 billion of investments have dumped fossil fuel companies. If you haven’t joined the movement, now’s the time. Even General Motors announced on January 28th that it would end the production of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2035.
Whether you are saving on your own or through a retirement savings program with your employer, you should make sure your retirement funds are not being invested in fossil fuel companies. When the movement started, many people were scared away from divesting with false claims that divesting would compromise returns, was too risky, and was too difficult to execute. None of these claims is true, especially now.
Let’s start with returns. One way to measure returns in the stock market is to look at the performance of the S&P 500. This is an index of 500 large US companies that investors of any size can invest in easily through firms like Vanguard, one of the largest and well-known providers of low-cost investment choices for companies and individuals.
Over the last five years the S&P 500 has appreciated by 105%, while an index of oil and gas exploration and production stocks produced a 5.75% return. (as of 2/17/20). There is no way anyone can predict future returns in the stock market, but this gap between returns is stunning. With the move to clean energy, it’s logically clear that investing in fossil fuel companies is not good for your financial health. These companies must either find new businesses or die.
Diversification—Beta Take Another Look.
The second claim that divesting from fossil fuels is risky because you lose the diversification provided by these companies is also false. Financial people measure the riskiness of an investment with a measure known as “beta.” A beta of one means the investment is equally risky to the S&P 500 index. Higher betas mean more risk, lower betas less risk. According to finance.yahoo.com the beta of the index of the oil and gas exploration and production stocks is 2.34 meaning that the returns are more than twice as volatile as those of the S&P 500. Dumping fossil fuel companies does not make your well-diversified portfolio riskier.
Lots of Options
The third argument that investing fossil-fuel free is difficult to do is also false. Because most people invest through their company-provided retirement accounts however, this is a bit trickier. Fossil free investment options are now common. You can research them here. Make sure you look for a fund that gets an “A” grade on this site. Many funds appear to be fossil free, but invest in companies that are linked to the fossil fuel industry, so do your homework.
Some employee retirement plans do not offer fossil-free choices for investing. So, if you invest only through your company and it does not provide a fossil-free option, it’s time to be proactive and push your employer to offer fossil-free choices both for your financial health and your Broad activism.
It’s time to starve these companies that have knowingly brought on global warming, lied about what they knew about the problem, and are still trying to hold on.
This blog is informational only and should not be construed as investment advice. The content is general information and is not a substitute for personal investment advice from a licensed professional.
Protecting Habitat & Biodiversity is Critical
by Suez Jacobson
In these times of COVID we know on an individual level, how valuable a healthy body is. On a planetary level, COVID has also taught us that biodiversity is key to the health and very continuation of life on Mother Earth.
In the past, some thought the loss of any individual species was irrelevant. Today, species extermination is 1,000 times more frequent than before human behavior chewed up natural habitats and put warming greenhouse gases into our atmosphere. We now know that every species matters and all things are connected. And, we see clearly how our work to reverse climate change connects to our work to protect habitat and preserve biodiversity.
In his 2016 book, Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life, E.O. Wilson argues that half of the planet must be protected by 2050 if we and our non-human neighbors are going to survive. He says that if we think soberly more than a decade ahead, we will realize that we are playing “a global endgame” driving us to a point of no return.
Before Wilson put the survival of our Earth Mother in such stark and relatable terms, global leaders already knew biodiversity was critically linked to habitat protection—and that restoration was necessary to the survival of thousands of species, including humans.
In 2010, world leaders from more than 190 countries met at the Convention on Biodiversity and outlined 20 metrics on which each country would measure their progress toward “biodiversity targets” to be achieved by 2020. But in September of 2020, the United Nations announced that progress had been made on only six of the targets. (As a side note, the United States is embarrassingly only an observer as the Senate has never ratified the CBD treaty.)
This failure is real. More than a million species are threatened by extinction, and in the US, we are losing a football field of natural landscape every 30 seconds. The nations that met in 2010 will meet again in 2021 to forge another 10-year document. But the grim reality of the lack of progress calls for action by all political leaders and conservation organizations. That’s why the 30 X 30 movement, protecting 30% of natural landscapes by 2030, is gaining traction.
It gives us a closer, interim target that’s easily communicated, and that people find easy to support. In fact, seventy-three percent of voters in western states say they are in favor of the 30 X 30 goal.
The Biden/Harris climate change plan is aligned with 30 X 30 and commits to, “Protecting biodiversity, slowing extinction rates, and helping leverage natural climate solutions by conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030.”
Senators Udall (D-NM), Bennet (D-CO) have introduced Senate Resolution 372, the 30 X 30 Resolution to Save Nature. And, in the House, Deb Haaland (D-NM-01), Biden’s choice to lead the Department of the Interior, has introduced a companion resolution.
Importantly, these resolutions include a commitment to “Improving access to nature for all people in the United States, including communities of color and economically disadvantaged communities.” Just as biodiversity is the key to survival of Mother Earth, diversity of peoples is key to the success and health of the conservation movement.
30 X 30 is not an easy goal. Currently, only 12% of US lands and 26% of US oceans are protected. And getting the results we need for biodiversity requires careful analysis of species and their habitats. Not all land preservation is equally valuable. For example, much of what is preserved as wilderness in the US is essentially “rock and ice”—high elevation alpine terrain which is not nearly as biodiverse as lower elevation landscapes.
To ensure the biodiversity needed, we must protect a broad representation of habitats and connect wild landscapes that are resilient and that can be restored. This requires working with federal, state, county, and Tribal governments and private landowners. The US is one of the top five countries with wilderness-quality lands and oceans that could be protected. We have a responsibility to act.
Great Old Broads for Wilderness, along with 25 other conservation organizations supports the 30 X 30 commitment. After all, our mission for more than 30 years is to protect and preserve wilderness and wild lands.
We pledge to use our grassroots energy to move this initiative forward, to slow extinction, climate change, and habitat loss—threats to all life on our beloved Earth.
Wolves are Coming Back to Colorado
by Suez Jacobson
It was a long effort on the part of many dedicated wolf advocates. But finally, after many unsuccessful paths, over many years, to reintroduce wolves to western Colorado, a 2020 ballot initiative (Proposition 114, originally Initiative 117) let voters decide. By a narrow margin—50.4% voting for the proposition versus 49.6% voting against it—voters said, “Howl, Yes.” That means wolves will be returning to Colorado, arriving by the end of 2023 under a program based on science and guided by Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
Proponents for wolves argued throughout the campaign that science tells us that bringing wolves, an apex predator, back to their historical homelands would help restore Colorado’s balance of nature just as they did in Yellowstone. A recent article in the NY Times reports on a study that bolsters the balance of nature argument. The study supports the claim that wolves may be key to stopping the spread of chronic wasting disease among deer and elk. It’s preliminary, but it gives us one more reason to cheer the return of wolves to Colorado.
The article states that wolves just may be the “first responders” against chronic wasting disease by being the vehicle for what’s called the “predator cleansing effect.” Because wolves must pursue their prey, they end up killing the weakest, slowest, and mostly likely-to-be-diseased animals in the herd, “cleansing” the herd of those individuals who can spread chronic wasting disease, now found in 26 US states. These are important results because scientists also worry the disease may be passed to humans who eat meat infected with the prions (a misfolded protein particle) that cause the disease and are not killed by cooking.
This study again illustrates the principle that more diverse and complete ecosystems are healthier for all who live in them—a principle Broads works to disseminate. Great Old Broads was happy to have played a small role in the campaign to pass Proposition 114 by writing postcards, publishing a letter to the editor in the Fairplay Flume, getting an endorsement from a Denver City Councilperson, and participating in phone banking. You could say Broads have really sunk their teeth into this issue!
The Thorn, the Healing, and the Hope
Here are some of the key actions we’ll urge with a new administration:
BLM’s Deliberate Destruction
by Suez Jacobson
Who has not found wonder and solace, shade and grandeur in trees, those tough-spirited stalwarts who suck up carbon? We love trees. Consider that there more than 3,400 communities designated as “Tree City USA” cities. Away from the city, on the wild public lands of the Colorado Plateau, trees are sources of life and joy. The gnarly shapes of ancient pinyon-juniper forests set our imaginations alight, teach us resilience, and provide refuge—a respite from the hot summer sun and desert winds.
That’s why it’s so heart-wrenching to watch the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) execute “vegetation removal” projects across the west. The indiscriminate ripping away of so much life with chains dragged between bulldozers and masticators, violently grinding away trees, sickens the soul. For years, the BLM has claimed these “treatments” are good for wildlife habitat and limit stream erosion. But the best available science tells us this is not true. This habitat provides a home for over 40 species of birds including the endangered Gunnison Sage-Grouse. When all the vegetation is removed, the sagebrush necessary to shelter the species is also ripped away. Pictures of these treated landscapes show the complete obliteration.
Some claim that these treatments may (and we don’t have concrete evidence that they do) improve conditions for cattle, but they are devastating to all other life, obliterating the habitat for hundreds of species. This destructive activity continues even though the BLM has acknowledged that grazing on public lands is a “major cause of global climate change.” So why would the BLM continue to deliberately obliterate life on a natural landscape to revegetate it with grasses for forage for cattle?
Now, though these treatments have been going on for decades, the BLM wants greater latitude to expand its execution of these treatments on public lands, even wilderness-quality lands. This is a travesty. The BLM would be allowed to violently clear up to 10,000 acres without scientific analysis or public input—resulting in a swath of destruction, removing millions of acres of carbon-mitigating vegetation.
In addition to the horrendous cycle of death, these projects are dangerous to our health and climate. Removing vegetation unleashes more dust into the air, which accumulates on winter and spring snow, hastening melt and reducing stream flow. With the west in a severe drought, this is an issue that should be uppermost in the minds of policy makers. But it seems not to be.
Add to that the loss of carbon sequestration and the infestation of invasive species, particularly cheatgrass, which contributes to more frequent and higher intensity fires in a drought-stricken landscape. These chaining projects are a coalescence of environmental nightmares.
We need to honor the magical qualities of trees, sources of solace and wonder, and natural vegetated landscapes that provide habitat for so many creatures before we allow the Bureau of Land Management to recklessly destroy what we love and want to protect.
Though the BLM is no longer taking comments on this issue, you can raise awareness and put public pressure on the BLM by writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper and contacting your elected officials to tell them this activity is an irresponsible assault on our public lands that decimates fragile ecosystems and exacerbates climate change.
More information HERE.
Standing in Solidarity with B.L.M. – Black Lives Matter!
by Shelley Silbert
Broads’ Executive Director
I write today at a time when our nation is reminded once again, through the horrific death of George Floyd, that racial injustice and brutality is a devastatingly commonplace and brutal occurrence. In the midst of a pandemic that has unequally affected African American communities—and after centuries of injustice that does not end—the resulting sorrow and rage has led America’s communities to the breaking point. I’ve held my breath for some hopeful news, and that has come from the many police chiefs across the country who have spoken, kneeled, or marched in solidarity with protestors; from a line of women in Louisville who protected protestors from police; to an enduring hug between a protestor and an officer. Nevertheless, the devastating lack of national leadership, the sowing of division, and the failure to address the injustice that lies at the root of the protests pours acid on the wound and inflames the immediate situation.
The moribund values that drive exploitation and conquest emerge from the same seed, whether they relate to people, land, water, or wildlife. Just as we fight each day for protection of wilderness, wild lands, and a livable climate, we must fight with all of our heart against racial injustice and against a society that perpetrates ongoing, daily inequities in health care, education, wages, voting access, safe places to be outdoors and an endless array of other ways our society imposes systemic discrimination. Today, race remains the greatest indicator of whether your home is near a toxic waste dump or industrial site, a fact that illuminates environmental injustice as part of the system of racial inequalities. The extraction of oil, gas and coal from public lands or coastal areas impacts the air and water quality of sovereign tribal nations and disadvantaged communities. The impacts of climate change are already affecting people of color disproportionately, and will only grow worse.
This is the time to reach out to friends, community members, and allies to share our grief and our commitment to systemic change. Great Old Broads for Wilderness believes that injustice against any person is an injustice against every person. This is the time to join together in the fight against racial injustice, and a time to ensure our work can lift up the fight for environmental justice, climate inequities, and protection of public lands so all people can find spiritual renewal and connection to nature.
Our work to protect public lands must ensure healthy communities and climate resilience for all people and all other species. Likewise, we must dismantle systemic racism everywhere, including within the origins of American conservation where public lands were torn from the native peoples who lived upon them. We must work to transform ourselves and the attitudes that still pervade the conservation movement.
eBikes and Public Lands
by Suez Jacobson
Member, Broads’ Board of Directors
On April 2nd, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it would reclassify e-bikes, removing them from being managed as off- highway vehicles and let local BLM land managers decide whether to open trails designated for non-motorized bikes to e-bike use.
E-bikes are motorized bicycles with the capability of reaching speeds of 20 mph with little assist. The BLM’s rationale is that “people of every ability should be able to explore them [public lands] to the greatest extent possible.” But to make such a change in land management policies during a pandemic and without any analysis of the environmental impact as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is irresponsible.
This is not the time, when people are suffering and focused on health and safety, to make changes to rules that will impact all users of public lands. The rationale that everybody ought to be able to go everywhere they are able with the assist of a motor highlights an attitude of entitlement, and exposes a shocking lack of respect, restraint, and care for our public lands.
In addition, e-bikes are already allowed on most trails on BLM lands where bikes are. Public lands open only to non-motorized use are a small proportion of all public lands. There is no need to expand e-bike use to trails where they are currently not allowed. Users have spent years working to establish many trails that were funded and designed specifically for human-powered, non-motorized travel. E-bikes do not belong on these trails. E-bikes extend travel mileage and increase erosion. They add to disturbance in wildlife habitat and change the character of the trail experience.
Although the BLM said that land managers are “already empowered” to act on this announcement, the agency also announced that they would take public comments on this rule for 60 days, until June9th. Access to these places of relative quiet contemplation should remain restricted. Please send in your comments by June 9.
Mail: U.S. Department of the Interior, Director (630), Bureau of Land Management, Mail Stop 2134 LM, 1849 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20240, Attention: RIN 1004-AE72.
Federal e-Rulemaking portal: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=BLM-2020-0001
What Kind of Change Will COVID-19 Inspire?
by Suez Jacobson
Member, Broads’ Board of Directors
Early—6AM—sitting in front of a computer screen of little boxes, half populated with participants’ faces, half not, I had an eerie
feeling, wondering if the dark boxes with small names, those of people with their video connections turned off, might represent the global toll of COVID-19. The gathering of almost 200 people, hosted by FutureEarth (https://futureearth.org/), was convened to share ideas about the implications for sustainability that might come from the global pandemic. There were lots of questions, many fewer answers. Would staying at home teach us we didn’t have to fly, didn’t have to commute every day, especially at rush hours, could enjoy more time with family instead of more consumption? Would we localize rather than relying on the high-carbon globalized world for immediate gratification? Would we be pulled into less resource-intensive ways to live?
Things have changed in ways we could never have imagined let alone predicted. We’ve been smacked with our vulnerabilities to natural phenomena that’s out of our direct control. We’ve known, if not overtly at least, in our deepest of guts that we don’t have complete control over the natural world even though we are part of it. Fires, floods, hurricanes—the ravages of climate change—remind us of our limitations. But this is the first time in our lifetimes that millions of people’s lives, all around the globe have been dramatically altered all at the same time. The response is also one we could never have predicted. From “shelter in place” to corporate bailouts to checks for all—radical ideas accepted and legislated even by some people who believe in rugged individualism and a libertarian free for all.
The not-so-silver silver lining is that carbon output has been cut by unimaginable magnitudes, especially in China. (It’s important to remember that much of China’s carbon output is generated satisfying US demand.) But the big question is, “What will happen when we get past this?” Will there be a rebound like no other, a meteoric release of “pent-up” demand, a three-cruise year to make up for lost time? Optimists hope that we’ll realize we can live much lower-carbon-intensive and more satisfying lives. But is that realistic? I don’t know. I’m not that optimistic. We even heard talk from the White House that the economy will get going again, on a schedule, by Easter, regardless of lives that might be lost to the virus. Sounds like a calculated trade, lives of older people in exchange for jobs and rising stock prices. Importantly, this is not a call for a “green reboot,” but for getting back to business as usual—dirty, earth-destroying business. If our priorities are economic growth and stock prices, there will be no long-term future for us as part of the web of life on this amazing planet. Fundamentally, until our relationship with the natural world changes, becomes one based on ethics not exploitation, we won’t behave differently, and we won’t survive.
In 1949 in Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic,” he argued, “A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his [sic] fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.” We’re a long way from 1949 and from thinking of ourselves as part of, rather than m/patriarchs over Mother Earth. But even in 1949 Leopold wrote, “Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail’s pace.” Can a pandemic change the trajectory?
If COVID-19 pushes us to establish familial relationships with our natural world, there will be real change. We will protect what we love, and that will mean permanent positive changes in our destructive lifestyles that have been interrupted by this global pandemic. If not, we’ll be in for more to come. As David Quammen wrote in a New York Times opinion piece referring to population and consumption “… one consequence of that abundance, that power, and the consequent ecological disturbances is increasing viral exchanges—first from animal to human, then from human to human, sometimes on a pandemic scale.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/28/opinion/coronavirus-china.html?searchResultPosition=1
For Suez Jacobson, executive producer of “Wild Hope” and a member of the Broads’ board of directors, the COVID-19 pandemic reminds her of many of the ideas in her film, particularly the fundamental truth of our interconnectedness to the natural world. To learn more, visit http://www.wildhopefilm.com/
Strengthen the Colorado Howl
by Suez Jacobson
Member, Broads’ Board of Directors
Update as of April 21, 2020:
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action fund was successful in working with State Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail, CO) to revise her bill so that they could support its passage and forgo the ballot initiative, saving both time and money. However, this was before COVID19 resulted in the legislative recess. When the legislature returns, it will likely deal with only the most critical pieces of legislation and SB121 will probably not come up for a vote. That makes support for the ballot initiative, 107, critical going into the November elections.
The last wolf in Colorado was killed in the 1940s when there was little understanding of the critical role that wolves play in healthy, balanced landscapes. But now we know that wolves, by dispersing ungulates, help restore vegetation near streams, limiting erosion and improving habitat for beavers and birds. There’s also evidence that wolves may help limit the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease by taking out weak animals. And, according to a study by the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, wolves may be a part of the solution to climate change.
Now there’s tangible hope that the howl will be heard in Colorado. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund was formed in 2019 to take political action to realize the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project’s goal. They raised the money and gathered the necessary signatures (almost 140,000) to get the measure to reintroduce wolves into Colorado on the ballot this fall. If the ballot initiative is successful, the remaining gap in the historic range of wolves between the Arctic and Mexico will be filled. The ballot initiative has three critical pieces:
- Reintroduction of gray wolves into western Colorado before the end of 2023
- Public participation in crafting the plan for reintroduction
- Compensation for livestock owners in the event of predation
(See the full text of the initiative here.)
This is not a partisan issue. According to recent polls, the vast majority (60% to 80%) of Coloradoans favor wolf reintroduction.
The minority who don’t support reintroduction often cite predation on livestock as a reason to keep wolves out of Colorado. Data on predation show that it is much less of a problem than some people claim. The U.S. Humane Society estimates that wolves are responsible for the deaths of 0.009 percent of the U.S. cattle inventory. Still, it’s critical that this legislation provides for compensation to ranchers in the event of wolf killings.
Given the polls, it looks as if the measure has a very good chance of passing. But a couple of recent events could havean impact on the measure’s success. First, State Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail, CO) introduced a bill into this legislative session that also deals with the reintroduction of wolves, and second, a wolf pack of six individuals was recently spotted in Moffat County.
Senator Donovan’s bill, in its current form is not a substitute for the ballot initiative, and The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) does not support it for these reasons:
- It postpones reintroduction until 2025.
- It postpones reintroduction until funds are identified to pay for predation.
- It calls for reintroduction only if there is not a “self-sustaining” population in Colorado by 2025; however, “self-sustaining” is not defined and it could be interpreted to mean a very small, less-than-viable number of wolves.
If Senator Donovan’s bill is rewritten to satisfy the RMWAF they would withdraw their initiative from the ballot. This would be a best-case scenario—saving time and money. But if the bill passes without the necessary changes, the RMWAF will continue to work to get their ballot initiative passed, which would override the legislation.
The confirmed pack of wolves in Moffat County may also present a challenge to the ballot initiative because people might say, “Wolves are already here. Why do we need reintroduction?” The RMWAF points out that six wolves do not make a viable population and more importantly, without passing the ballot initiative there is no funding for predation by wolves that have come to Colorado on their own.
Opponents to wolf reintroduction will be spending money on ad campaigns to portray wolves as the “big bad wolves” of fairy tales. But these are fairy tales, not science. This is a chance to pay attention, read the science, and speak for the wild so that participatory democracy has an opportunity to shape policy. Proponents of the initiative say that this is the only chance to get wolves back in Colorado in the foreseeable future. If it doesn’t pass, the issue will be moot for a very long time. Great Old Broads for Wilderness is a member of the coalition for the Rocky Mountain Wolf Project and supports the return of gray wolves to Colorado.
The Pressure’s On
by Suez Jacobson
Member, Broads’ Board of Directors
When 40 institutional investors with $112.8 billion in assets under management send a letter to 58 large companies involved in oil, gas, mining, or other extractive industries telling them (and the companies that finance them) to cease and desist, they ought to listen. The letter went out January 28, 2020 and the message was clear:
Don’t exploit natural resources on previously protected public lands despite the go ahead from this presidential administration. And furthermore, the letter said don’t just “ignore” these openings, “oppose them.”
The special lands listed in the letter that should remain off limits to extractive industries include:
- Bear Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, which the administration illegally shrunk by 85% and 50% respectively, potentially opening sacred lands and archeological sites to resource extraction.
- The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Arctic Ocean, which the administration opened to oil and gas exploration.
- The Boundary Water Canoe Area Wilderness, now at risk from nearby once-banned copper sulfate mining.
- The Grand Canyon, where lands are threatened by uranium mining development that had been prohibited.
- The Tongass National Forest, where revisions to the roadless rule would allow roads (that fragment critical habitat) to be built to log the old growth forest.
The powerful case made in the letter used ethical and financial reasoning, warning that exploiting this administration’s policies “poses irreparable risks to the American landscape” and will probably lead to “stranded assets”—assets that prove to be worthless when another administration reinstates the prohibitions, the openings are overturned in courts of law, and/or we transition to a low-carbon economy.
The policies of this administration are clearly short-sighted, managing only for short-term profits of corporate America and ignoring the will of “91% of voters across political parties [who] ranked the protection and maintenance of national parks, public lands, and natural places as an important goal for the federal government.”
It’s time to emasculate the immoral and myopic decisions of this administration by pressuring corporations to make the right decisions for the long-term future of Mother Earth. Taking away their checkbooks just might do the trick.
Some press coverage of this letter:
For a copy of the letter contact Lauren Compere: LCompere@bostoncommonasset.com
Will the Greater Sage Grouse Survive?
by Suez Jacobson
Member, Broads’ Board of Directors
One spring, a few years ago, I had made a conscious decision to give myself over to voyeurism. At 4:15 in the morning, long before the first light of day, 12 of us who had made this same decision, stood in a grocery store parking lot in Craig, Colorado sharing names, drinking black coffee. One of two guides from Conservation Colorado explained what was ahead—an hour ride, a quarter-mile walk to a trailer, then silent observation of the mating ritual of the greater sage grouse, a species that was being considered for listing as “endangered” at the time.
It was an unseasonably warm day for the last day of March in Craig. The owner of the motel where we stayed remarked that this was the first time the participants on these sage grouse tours would not be trudging through snow. The expected high was almost 70 degrees. Still it felt chilly in the quiet, black night before dawn, under a vast sky studded with stars you can’t see where I live, in Denver. We drove to a secret location on private land. After a short, silent walk, we seated ourselves quietly in the two rows of bleacher seats built into a 12′ x 5′ utility trailer maintained by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The sweet, soft glow on the horizon signaled the arrival of another day. When the guides opened the sides of the trailer, there in the striated field, were almost 200 sage grouse. This display of birds larger than pheasants, but smaller than wild turkeys, was striking. The group, dominated by males, filled the weightless clear air with “whoo whoo click, whoo whoo click, whoo whoo click.” As the sun spread its light and warmth to the yellow, green, and purple patterned landscape, the males began strutting. Showing off their bright yellow eyebrows, they began to jerk their bodies, like small children with hula hoops. They parted their thick, white, bulky-knit scarves to reveal their mustard-colored, egg-like sacs on their chests. Binoculars pasted to our faces, we were transfixed. Our arms wearied, but we kept watching. A small flock of deer walked through the group of grouse, seemingly puzzled by the birds. A sizable herd of elk came from behind a hill and worked its way to the top of the ridge. The sage grouse danced on, unbothered. Then a golden eagle swooped over the flock, and they were gone. It hadn’t been a good day for the males. The smaller females, plain gray birds about three quarters the size of their male counterparts, were less than engaged. Like students in a classroom where attendance is mandatory, they simply watched. In their judgment, the males had failed that morning. Neither the strut nor the social skills met with approval. They would have to reassemble the next day, and perhaps many more days as these mating rituals extend from March into May.
You can watch this amazing display on YouTube and get a much better idea of the mechanics of the process than you can from reading a description. It’s a visual delight. But it’s nothing like being out on the quiet open landscape of rolling hills trying to figure out what the dance of the sage grouse, a uniquely spirited bird that is now close to extinction, might mean. You can’t feel the sense of place from a computer screen. You must be there. The rolling stripes of the landscape reminded me that the owner planted winter wheat in alternating bands. The cow pies said cattle lived on this landscape. In the distance, mountains reminded me this was Colorado.
We came to see the birds, the elk, the deer, and the pronghorn antelope, but intertwined with those natural creatures and their processes was stark evidence of human intervention. The loss of the sagebrush habitat that these birds need to survive and the resultant collapse in their numbers from the millions that Lewis and Clark saw, dictated that this experience had to be carefully regulated. The sage grouse’s habitat and its mating grounds continue to be compromised, expropriated for other uses. Eaten up by fire deliberately set to clear the sagebrush, staked out for renewable and nonrenewable energy development, used for cattle ranching, and subdivisions, the habitat for the greater sage grouse has been reduced to 50% fewer acres of suitable landscape over the last 100 years. These birds were on private land, but much of the sage grouse habitat is on public lands, lands that this administration would like to open to mining and drilling.
Greater sage grouse are extremely sensitive to humans and their use of the land. Simply stringing barbed wire fences kills these low-flying birds. In September of 2015, despite the collapse in the greater sage grouse population to less than 10% of its historical numbers, the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service decided not to list them as an endangered species. Rather, the Department of Interior in the Obama administration put together a plan, agreed to by both industry and the conservation community, to preserve sage grouse habitat. A lot of work had gone into coming to this decision which rested on the judgment that local and state governments working with the Bureau of Land Management and the US Forest Service would continue to preserve enough habitat to save the species. These plans, made after long dialogues, were then dismissed by the Trump administration, and over nine million acres of sage grouse habitat was opened to oil and gas leasing. There seemed to be some good news in October. A preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in Boise, Idaho demanded that there be more analysis of the impact on the endangered bird. The result was supposed to be that the 2015 plan would be enforced in seven (ID, WY, CO, UT, NV, CA and OR) of the 11 states where sage grouse live. Now it appears, according to conservationists including the Wilderness Society, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Audubon Society, this court order is not being consistently applied, with leases offered for 117,000 acres in sage grouse territory in ID, CO, and UT. These leases will be challenged in court.
This is why Broads’ work to keep fossil fuels in the ground is so critical—of course, it’s related to climate change, but it’s also the preservation of habitat for wild creatures.
Closing the Gap
by Suez Jacobson
Member, Broads’ Board of Directors
The gap between what Americans want and this administration’s environmental policy is startling. Results of a survey by the Washington Post in conjunction with the Kaiser Family Foundation, released October 25th, dramatize the gaping chasm. (You can see the full survey results here: https://www.kff.org/report-section/the-kaiser-family-foundation-washington-post-climate-change-survey-main-findings-9349/ )
According to the survey, a huge majority of adults, 67%, disapprove of the way the President is “handling climate change”—a higher disapproval rating than for any other issue including the economy, healthcare, immigration, renewable energy, and gun policy.
Looking at specific policies makes it clear why people are frustrated with this administration. Let’s take the Paris Climate Accord, an agreement among nearly 200 nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A mere 16% of those surveyed think the US should withdraw from this agreement. But on November 4th, President Trump announced that the US would bail out, refuse to accept responsibility, as the biggest per capita greenhouse gas emitter on earth, further contributing to the suffering of those least responsible for global warming. Another specific: Trump has also proposed weaker standards for the disposal of coal ash. Again, according to the survey, only 19% of people surveyed, favor relaxing standards for emissions from coal-fired power plants. This disconnect is alarming, especially when over 50% of Americans report feeling “angry,” “afraid,” and “helpless” when asked about how they feel about climate change.
Great Old Broads for Wilderness is in tune with Americans, focusing on how public lands, with their ability to sequester carbon, could be part of the solution to climate change—rather than part of problem. But the Trump administration is hell bent on expanding leasing on public lands for oil and gas development—adding to the carbon bomb. These survey results tell us that expanding oil and gas leasing is not only bad for the climate, it is unpopular. According to the survey, 51% percent of adults believe that leasing of federal lands for fossil fuel development should decrease, and 32% say it should remain unchanged. This is an overwhelming 83% of adults who oppose this President’s policy to expand leasing for oil and gas development. These are the facts.
Broads is engaged in opposing more leasing of public lands for fossil fuel development. Find out what the Broadband in your area is doing to be part of the solution, closing the gap between what we want and what we are getting under this administration. https://www.greatoldbroads.org/join-a-broadband/
Durango Diaries Presentation: How Can We Save the Environment?
By Shelley Silbert, Broads’ Executive Director
I am a Great Old Broad. We are women who find our greatest happiness, our greatest fascination, on the lands that are accessible to everyone, regardless of income or status—our small “d”—democratic public lands. Public lands are the places I go every chance I get: they are my spiritual grounding and where I love to discover wildflowers, birds, geology, and the remarkable ecological networks that support all life on earth. And while someday I might not be able to hike, backpack, or ski, I still want to know that public lands are there, intact, for future generations—and I mean of all species, whether of two, four, six or eight legs, finned or furred, flying in the air, or rooted in the ground.
How many of you think public lands are protected lands? Think again—all kinds of things impact our public lands—roads, mines, oil and gas extraction, dams, and even now a border wall being constructed through national parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges that truly were supposed to be protected.
I’m nearing sixty years old, and in my entire life, I have never experienced such constant and vicious attacks on our public lands and environmental laws like those happening today. And we all know we’ve witnessed harsh attacks before.
How can you save the environment? I believe you can save it with your strong voice, your thoughtful choices, and your educated vote. You can advocate for what you believe, letting your values form the foundation for your choices. You know, we used to be called “citizens” in this country up until the 1950s, when suddenly a post-war industrial boom led to citizens being viewed as consumers. You could almost hear the ka-ching! While we do consume, we are not solely “consumers”. The term citizen, such as world citizen, implies we have responsibilities. This includes the responsibility to choose how we consume and how we set the practices and policies that ensure we do not consume the very life given to us, the life that we owe to future generations.
Growing up, I didn’t know much about public lands or wild places. My grandparents immigrated to NY in the 1920s, and my parents, with their urban roots and urban sensibilities, moved to Tennessee in the 1950s, where I was raised. My dad’s view of wilderness was the empty lot near his house in Brooklyn where he played stickball with his friends as a boy.
When I began my job as Executive Director with Great Old Broads for Wilderness seven years ago, my dad asked me to explain what defined wilderness. I simply told him wilderness meant roadless public lands, designated by Congress to stay largely undisturbed by human impact, forever. And, that I had come to love wilderness because it was there I felt my strongest and most fulfilled self.
Yet being in the wilderness was not always easy, especially as a woman. Many years ago, I had an experience that may be one reason why I appreciate being part of a women-led wilderness organization. I was backpacking alone in the Superstition Wilderness, a rugged wonderland of weathered volcanic formations in the Sonoran Desert at the edge of the sprawling megalopolis of Phoenix. As I started to cook my dinner over a small fire at sunset, two men I’d seen earlier in the day on the trail walked into my camp. I immediately noticed a rifle in one man’s hands, and a pistol on the belt of the other. One sat down on a rock by the fire, while the other sat a distance away. The one sitting closer regaled me with questions about why I was alone in such a dangerous place. He told me about bodies found in the desert, battles between old miners and young intruders, and by the way, did I know I was camped on a mining claim? He’d seen death by rattlesnake, hypothermia, heat exhaustion, and dehydration. When he started talking about mountain lions and bears, I was convinced he simply wanted to provoke a reaction. I refused to oblige. Thankfully, the two men left as the sky darkened, and I took a deep breath. I ate my dinner, sat quietly, and then climbed into my sleeping bag.
In the middle of the night, I woke with a sudden awareness that a bright light was shining on my face. I sensed it through my eyelids and dared not move a muscle. I couldn’t hear a sound, but knew they were back again, the beam of their flashlight trained on my head. Motionless and with eyes closed, I considered my options. I couldn’t think of many. After what seemed like eternity, I knew I had to face my tormentors. I prepared to let out a piercing scream to be heard throughout the wilderness as I opened my eyes. And then I saw it, the full moon, rising over a cliff, its blessed light streaming full force onto my face.
It was then that I knew how scared I was. Immediately, I began to question my wisdom of backpacking alone. Yet I knew that I could not let fear keep me from doing what I most love.
That night in the Superstition Wilderness, I grew stronger in my own voice. Perhaps it was out of defiance that I knew I must claim my place, to become a bit feral myself. I grew bolder and more intent in knowing that as a woman, I was committed to being in and being FOR wild places. There are some times when determination takes a giant leap forward, and for me, this was one of those times. No one was going to stop me from being a part of these places that mattered most. No one, not these two men, not men intent on building illegal roads into wild lands, not those who want to pump fossil fuels, cut lumber, mine uranium, or otherwise scar public land for whim or for profit.
After that, I worked a couple of decades with the Nature Conservancy and with a university, but I ached to become an even stronger advocate for the environment. Ultimately, I found my place with Great Old Broads, an organization that empowers women as activists.
As Broads, we value the feminine way of being in relation to nature, an approach that has common roots with that of many indigenous cultures. It’s one of humility rather than arrogance, gratitude rather than acquisition, reciprocity and harmony rather than conquest. Both women and men can take this approach, but I daresay it’s one that has rarely been exercised by Western civilization. The future of life as we know it on Earth depends upon taking this feminine view of nature.
We are called today to use our voice for our planet like never before. We must put aside our fear, and especially our greed, and become citizens of the earth. Each voice becomes a drop in a river that eventually will flood policy makers with the truth that we cannot live without clean water, clean air, and a stable climate. As is attributed to a Cree prophecy, which is also emblazoned on my brother’s favorite t-shirt: “Only when the last tree is cut, the last fish caught, and the last stream poisoned will we realize that we cannot eat money.”
If you think there is nothing we can do, recognize that apathy and hopelessness are the tools of those who benefit from the present system. We are limited only by our inability to imagine. Who pictured that Nelson Mandela would lead his country after years in prison? Who imagined the Berlin Wall would come down after decades? We cannot all be as heroic and recognized as Greta Thunberg—I wish I had the energy and chutzpa of that remarkable sixteen-year-old. But we can commit ourselves to making change, in small and large acts, publicly and privately, using our specific skills and yes, courage, to turn this giant ship heading in the wrong direction. We owe it to the teenagers to speak as loudly as they are.
As citizens, we must gather the courage to open our eyes to that which torments us, and let out a scream for all to hear. Together, our voices can be heard. You just never know when the full moon will rise above the cliff and bless us with her unexpected light.
Our National Parks Are Being Loved to Death
By Suez Jacobson, Broads Board Member
I’m a Broad and I also serve on the Great Old Broads for Wilderness (Broads) board. Broads is a national grassroots organization, led by women, that inspires advocacy to preserve and protect wilderness and public lands. Conceived by older women who love wilderness, Broads gives voice to the millions of Americans who want to protect their public lands andwildernessfor this and future generations. As a women-led conservation organization, we bring knowledge, leadership, and humor to the environmental and wilderness preservation movements.
Today, I share my voice as a Broad on an issue facing our public lands that is of great concern. Last weekend, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the National Park Service (NPS), without doing any analysis or listening to input from citizens and National Park visitors, is planning to open all primary access and back roads in Utah’s national parks to off road vehicles (OHVs) as of November 1st.
Acting regional director Palmer “Chip” Jenkins announced this policy change with a memo to Utah park superintendents using the argument that this will align policy in the parks with Utah law. This reverses a policy by the NPS to keep these vehicles off the crowded park roads despite Utah’s law, passed in 2008, which allowed them on state and county roads if these vehicles were “street legal”—registered and insured.
Conservationists were alarmed. To get an idea of what this might mean in Arches National Park, take a look at the webcams installed because of the incredible traffic jams of visitors trying to get into the park. https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm
Our parks are already being loved to death.
More seriously, OHVs can easily be driven off-road—the very intent of their existence. For the fragile desert in Utah parks this is ecocide. Even walking on fragile living biological soil crust destroys the foundation for life in the desert. That’s why there’s so much on the web telling us, “Don’t Bust the Crust.”
And imagine the noise.
As with most recent assaults on our public lands, this decision caters to narrow interests. The Salt Lake Tribune reported that this decision was prompted by a request to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt from Rep. Phil Lyman, R-Blanding (and 13 other Utah officials). Lyman was convicted in 2015 of trespass and conspiracy for riding into Recapture Canyon after it was closed to protect cultural resources. His intentions are clear.
This is just one more assault on our democracy and our public lands. We must fight back. Write a letter to the editor of your local paper. Send a message to the administrators in your favorite Utah National Park. Be bold. Be a Broad.
Update – Reason Prevails
The National Park Service announced on October 25th that it would withdraw its order of September 24th, that would have taken effect November 1st, to allow OHVs on the roads in Utah’s National Parks. People spoke out and they were heard. Arches’ and Canyonlands’ Superintendent, Kate Cannon, argued in an eight-page memo what was obvious to a lot of people. The parks are already too crowded; it would impossible to police OHVs, to keep them on the roads (when they are built to go off), and the noise would compromise the park experience. This sensible push-back, and the outrage at a change in policy without any environmental review or public input, was supported by a joint resolution of the councils in the adjacent communities of Grand, Moab and Castle Valley.
Sometimes there is good news. Thank you all who stood up to this incomprehensible rule change and made it go away. More details at this link: https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2019/10/25/feds-shift-gears-now-say/
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Bigger Than Ourselves
By Shelley Silbert
Executive Director, Great Old Broads for Wilderness
It’s hard to fathom that our scrappy and growing organization celebrates thirty years in 2019! In this issue, we preview opportunities to commemorate this special year: September festivities at the Boulder Mountain Guest Ranch at the edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, new membership specials, and expanded opportunities to catalyze public land protection where you live.
GETTING DOWN & DIRTY FOR THIRTY
Three decades ago, our founders chose our very particular name—Great Old Broads for Wilderness—to project a certain proclivity to laugh together even as we deal with serious issues, not to mention the ability to handle mud, dust, heat, cold, or wildness. It’s not beneath us to handle crusty old politicians either. We use our wit and wisdom, strategy, tenacity, and persuasion to get them behind wilderness designation, forest protection, keeping roadless areas intact, fighting climate change, and other measures to defend the wild places we love. We let them know we’re not going away and won’t take no for an answer!For older broads, “dirty thirties” conjures up the devastating Dust Bowl decade. As Ken Burns’ PBS documentary described it, the Dust Bowl was “the worst man-made ecological disaster in American history,” and “a morality tale about our relationship with the land that sustains us—a lesson we ignore at our own peril.”
As an organization entering our thirties, what lesson could be more appropriate as we fight today’s ecological disasters, and the dirty politics that go hand in hand with them? Younger broads describe the dirty thirties as the decade in which women revel in their full complement of power and prowess. Indeed, we are hitting our stride as an organization in our dirty thirties, and we intend to use everything in our power to prevent any disaster reminiscent of the Dust Bowl on U.S. public lands or anywhere on the planet.
SHARPENING OUR TOOLS
We continue to sharpen the tools of advocacy work, aiming to be bigger than ourselves as we tackle mission-driven work, inspire activism, and develop partnerships to multiply our efforts in this endlessly challenging period. We train a new cohort of Broadband leaders in March, surpassing 40 total chapters and adding in states where we’ve never had a presence, like Alaska, New Hampshire, and Texas. Reports from our Broadband leaders tell us there is inspiring work going on in their communities. More people are getting involved: over 7,000 participants last year and nearly 43,000 volunteer hours— a whopping 47% increase in boots on the ground and 19% more hours. Taking on an astounding array of activities, our Broadbands:
- Actively engage in Forest Plan Revisions and wilderness campaigns
- Write formal comments on the impacts of fossil fuel and infrastructure development, grazing, mining, and roads
- Monitor water quality and solitude (or lack thereof)
- Advocate for wetlands protection
- Teach nature studies to children
- Author opinion pieces and letters to the editor to educate the community
- Host and attend rallies
- Take the lead on climate issues…and so much more.
In November, a group of Broadband leaders will descend on the halls of Congress for a national grassroots training and lobbying event. Guided by our strategic plan, we’ve honed key campaigns to guide our work, both nationally and on specific public lands near and dear to our members. We continue to go to court as needed, which sadly seems more often of late. A litigation screening tool we’ve just developed will help decide when legal action is critical.
CELEBRATING OUR WAY TO SUCCESS
As Broads, we know that reconnecting with wild places and our wild selves motivates our passion like nothing else. When difficult work drains and depletes us, a retreat to celebrate what we love uplifts the soul. My year started with a recharge in a mountain hut at 10,000’ elevation, enjoying good friends and the chance to ski where quiet rules and motorized vehicles can’t follow. To enjoy no sound but the push of skis and the occasional junco’s trill or hawk’s cry; my ski poles softly whooshing through ice crystals, like sifting through tiny shards of glass. We marvel at the feathered hoar crystals mounded as if marmots sleep beneath the snow, their frosty fur curling at the surface. I think of the Navajo/Diné concept of Hozho: beauty and balance, and the need to restore it when disrupted. Beauty before me, beauty behind me, beauty above me, beauty around me. I carry these images home as inspiration. We gain resilience as we celebrate these moments and wake our senses to the urgency to restore the beauty, in every possible way.
This has been the work of Broads for thirty years—to restore what has been disrupted and protect what remains in its most intact and balanced condition. Hell yes, we are still here and persistent as ever —kicking up our heels with passion for wilderness, and kicking mightily against some of the harshest political attacks ever seen on public lands and waters, let alone our democracy. Walking in beauty, we are bigger than ourselves, and we walk together, growing stronger in our thirtieth year—and counting!
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