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Politics : Politics

The Joy of Cycling: Now Available for Everyone

In 2007, Boston was ranked the worst biking city in the U.S. by Bicycling magazine—for the third time. There were plenty of reasons: lack of lanes, poor road conditions, boorish drivers. Today, Boston is on its way to becoming one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, and it’s the first to create a public bike program targeting low-income communities. The main reason for the one-eighty: former Olympian Nicole Freedman.

Freedman grew up in the Boston suburbs, rode professionally for 12 years (she won the national road-racing trial in 2000), and holds a degree in urban planning from Stanford University. In 2007, when Freedman was tasked with heading up the city’s newly launched Boston Bikes program, the city had zero bike lanes and a dismal safety record. In 2006, there were 36 bike accidents in one intersection alone.

Freedman, 42, was undaunted. She created 14 miles of bike lanes in her first two years on the job and hasn’t slowed down since. The city is now rated 16th by Bicycling. And Freedman recently secured a $15 million grant to build protected lanes, including a four-mile ring around downtown. “Cities need plans,” says Martha Roskowski, VP of the national advocacy group People for Bikes. “But they really need people like Nicole who can turn them into action.”

As Americans have finally begun to embrace the idea of bikes as transportation, other cities have made turnarounds of their own. Washington, D.C., now has six miles of protected lanes, and Chicago’s bike-share program is on pace to have 475 stations by the end of the year. What sets Boston apart is the progressive bent of its efforts. “It was really important to make sure that we reached residents with low incomes,” says Freedman. “They’re the ones most impacted by transportation costs.” Hubway, the city’s bike-share system, recently began subsidizing memberships for those making less than $20,000 a year. In March, Freedman launched Prescribe-A-Bike, which offers low-income residents a reduced $5 annual Hubway membership if a doctor recommends riding for health reasons. (Nearly 2,500 people have since signed up.) And, finally, Boston Bikes has donated more than 1,000 bicycles to in-need locals. “Cycling is universally appealing,” says Freedman. “We just have to make it accessible.”

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The Last of the Desert Dwellers

Namibia, some would say, is an African country that actually gets wildlife conservation. So much so that a conservation mandate is actually written into its constitution. Which makes it all the more perplexing why the Namibian government has issued permits to hunt its iconic desert elephants. 

That policy has certainly sparked a lot of Internet outrage. There's a campaign on Facebook devoted to saving the elephants, and a recent entry expounds on the killing of a 17-year-old bull named Delta, apparently the first elephant shot because of the permits: 

“Delta was killed close to his family, and a short distance from a school, where there had been peaceful co-existence between humans and animals for some time.” 

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/namibia-desert-elephants-mom-baby_fe.jpg","caption":"Desert elephants can now only be found in Namibia and Mali."}%}

The furor is predominantly based on the fact that only 100 of these animals remain in Nambia, according to Laura Brown, a scientist and the director of Desert Lion and Elephant Conservation. And since word broke about the permits, there have been conflicting news reports, allegations of government secrecy, and suggestions—and counter-claims—that the permits were issued in exchange for political votes. So what’s really going on?

The answer is murky, but it starts with how Namibia manages wildlife. In 1996, the Nature Conservation Amendment Act spawned the formation of conservancies, which essentially gave rural communities consumptive and non-consumptive rights to wildlife. There are 79 conservancies, with 240,000 people living in them.

According to Colgar Silkopo, Director of Regional Services and Parks Management at Namibia’s Ministry of Environment Tourism, permit allocations for wildlife occur at the beginning of each year. This year, MET allotted nine elephant hunting permits to six local conservancies in the Kunene and Erongo regions in the northwest—areas where the desert elephants live. 

Seven of these permits are trophy-hunting permits. And the other two are “own use, which means, they can be used for meat,” explain Silkopo. However, these “non- trophy animals can be hunted by the conservancies themselves or a professional hunter or company they have a contract with.”

But is this actually antithetical to Namibia’s conservation ethos? Like most things about elephants in Africa, it depends on whom you talk to.

Dr. Margaret Jacobsohn is a trustee at Namibia’s Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC) and a Namibian anthropologist who has been working in community based conservation for three decades.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/namibia-desert-elephants-three_fe.jpg","caption":"Desert dwellers were once more widespread across Africa, until hunting in the 1980's caused numbers to plummet."}%}

She recently wrote an opinion piece for Africa Geographic stating she’s against any elephant hunting, but says that doesn’t mean there’s an irony at play: “No, there’s no irony here. The irony is not in the trophy hunting. Rather, it is that the public—those who do not live with wildlife—is attacking the country with one of the best conservation records in all of Africa.”

CJ Carrington, a South African freelance writer who wrote about the controversy for the organization Conservation Action Trust, says she does find Namibia’s actions antithetical to its conservation mandate, especially because she believes the government has tried to keep the permits on the down-low. “Attempting to keep it secret and then scurrying to provide flimsy excuses—these are not the actions of an institution with nothing to hide.”

What is clear is that the whole concept of wildlife conservation in Africa is altogether complicated. “Listen,” says, Brown, who has been closely studying some 70 of the remaining desert-dwelling elephants for nearly a decade, “there are many different ways African nations maintain wildlife. Some governments throw all the animals into a national park and keep the people out. Some don’t have national parks and all the wildlife is gone. And Namibia has an in-between, where you have these conservancies where people decide the use of the wildlife.” 

Brown makes a point of explaining that hunting isn’t new in Namibia, just all the sudden attention to it. “Hunting has always been allowed in Namibia. It is always been able to issue permits to hunting. It just hasn’t been highly talked about. In fact, Namibia has been very much ignored [in the conversation about Africa’s elephants] until very recently.”

Brown says that eventually, her organization would like to see people deter elephants with non-lethal means. “That is something we are working towards. “But at this point,” she adds, “the country just isn’t there, yet.”

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The Land No Man Would Claim

"No man’s land" is a term that, to the modern ear, can sound like stepping onto a battlefield. In fact, the phrase refers back to the idea of unclaimed land (recorded as "namesmaneslande" in the Domesday survey of England of 1086) and still carries an echo of perennial hopes for free land, for places beyond the control of others. Ordinary places become extraordinary in no man’s land.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/alastair-bonnett-unruly-places_fe.jpg","align":"right","size":"medium"}%}

Such in-between places remind us how dependent we are on borders—that our sense of order and certainty draws deeply from the knowledge that we are in governed territory. No man’s lands may be vast stretches of unclaimed land or tiny scraps left over from the planning of cities, though the uncertainty of the no man’s land is especially keenly felt in places that the outside world refuses to recognize or that appear to be between borders.

The notion that places might slip down between borders led me on a geographical quest. I went looking for the farthest possible distance between the border posts of two contiguous nations, to see how far they could be stretched apart.

Most border posts face each other. A change of signage, a different flag, a line on the road, all combine to signal that no sooner have you stepped out of one country than you have arrived in another. But what happens if you keep on opening up that space?A few years ago, with the help of hours spent blinking at the tiny fonts favored on travelers’ Internet chat forums, I found what I was looking for. Along a road between Senegal and Guinea in West Africa the distance between border posts is 27 kilometers.

It is not the world’s only attenuated border area. The Sani Pass, which runs up to the mountainous kingdom of Lesotho from South Africa, is the most famous. It’s a rough road, although much visited by tourists in 4x4s seeking out the highest pub in Africa, which sits near the top of the pass. The drama of the trip is heightened by the thrill that comes from learning that this is no man’s land. The South Africa border control, complete with "Welcome to South Africa" signs, is 5.6 kilometers away from the Lesotho border office.

Another specimen is to be found in the mountainous zone between border posts on the Torugart Pass that connects China and Kyrgyzstan. Central America also has a nice example in Paso Canoas, a town that can appear to be between Panama and Costa Rica. It is habitually described as no man’s land because, having left through one border post, you can go into the town without passing through immigration to enter the other country. Some visitors relish the impression that the town around them is beyond borders. Partly as a result, Paso Canoas has developed a darkly carnival atmosphere, as if it were some kind of escaped or twilight place.

What these gaps reflect back at us is our own desires, especially the wish to step outside, if only for a short time, the claustrophobic grid of nations. We probably already suspect that it’s an illusion. Shuffling forward in a queue and making it past the passport officer does not mean you are, at that exact moment, leaving or entering a country. Such points of control exist to verify that you are allowed to enter or leave. Their proximity to the borderline is a legal irrelevance.

Yet this legal interpretation fails to grasp either the symbolic importance of the border point or the pent-up urge to enter ungoverned territory.The fact that Paso Canoas is split by the Panama– Costa Rica border rather than actually being between borders doesn’t stop people from describing it as an "escaped zone."Similarly, the steep valley up the Sani Pass is nearly all in South Africa, and the road down from Senegal into Guinea is always in one nation or another, but that isn’t how travelers experience it or even what they want.

{%{"quote":""There is a primal attraction to entering somewhere real, a place that can be walked on, gotten lost in, even built on, and that appears to be utterly unclaimed.""}%}

The attraction of these in-between spaces has a lot to do with the fact that they are on land. Going through passport control at an airport provides no comparable thrill, even though international airspace is far more like a genuine no man’s land than any number of dusty miles on the ground. It seems that escaping the nation-state isn’t all that is going on here. There is a primal attraction to entering somewhere real, a place that can be walked on, gotten lost in, even built on, and that appears to be utterly unclaimed.

Some of the overland tourist trips that occasionally rumble along the Senegal–Guinea highway offer camping in the no man’s land as part of the package. Like other examples, it’s a zone that provokes people to muse on allegiance and belonging. In his essay Life Between Two Nations, the American travel writer Matt Brown describes encounters with villagers along the Senegal–Guinea road that provoke speculation on the nature of national identity:

I stopped my bike to chat with the woman pounding leaves. I asked in French (my Pular only goes so far), "Is this Guinea?" "Yes," she answered. Surprised that she even understood French, I posed a follow-up question. "Is this Senegal?" I asked. "Yes," came the reply.

A little later Brown sits on "a nationless rock" and imagines these villagers as freed from the "archaic, nonsensical national borders drawn up by greedy European leaders at the Conference of Berlin over 100 years ago." Stretching out border posts does seem to break the seal on the national unit. The resultant gap may not be of much legal import, but for travelers on the ground it creates a sense of openness and possibility.

Yet while travelers may relish this expansiveness, the consequences for those who have to live and work in such places can be less positive, such as heightened insecurity and a sense of abandonment. This is one of the reasons why African states have been trying to close the gap in such anomalous spaces. The African Development Fund, which supports economic infrastructure projects across the continent, has made "establishing juxtaposed checkpoints at the borders" of its member states a priority, including at the Guinea–Senegal border.

What most concerns the fund’s members is the impact that these distant border posts have on the flow of trade. Along the Guinea–Senegal route there are nightmare tales of vehicles being sent back and forth by officials who keep asking for new documentation or demanding new bribes. In-between land can easily turn into a place of bureaucratic limbo where both travelers and locals are uniquely vulnerable to tiresome and corrupt officialdom. Patches of ground "between" nations are places that can be thought of as free, but they are also places where we are reminded why people willingly give up freedoms for the order and security of being behind a border. 

Excerpt from Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies. Copyright © 2014 by Alastair Bonnett. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

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Sign for Delivery

Soccer fans aren't the only depressed creatures in Argentina these days. Arturo the polar bear, a 29-year-old male who lives at the Mendoza Zoo, has been swaying back and forth, shaking his head and acting downright despondent ever since his longtime playmate Pelusa passed away two years ago.

And his decidedly un-polar living conditions aren’t helping: temperatures in Arturo’s oven-like enclosure can top 100 degrees.

What do you do with a morose cold-weather mammal that appears to be suffering from heartache, heatstroke, or both? Internet voices think they have an answer—move Arturo to the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre (IBPCC) at the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Canada. There are petitions currently circulating on Change.org and ForceChange.org to make it happen, and a fundraiser posted to Reddit had crowdsourced almost $5,000 as of this writing.

Arturo’s plight has also gone viral: the “Save Polar Bear Arturo” Facebook page is pushing 14,000 “Likes,” Cher has tweeted about him, and even Newt Gingrich is urging officials to save the animal.

Those officials would first need to cut through a pile of red tape. “Before an animal is transported, it receives a detailed veterinary check-up to verify that it is healthy for transport,” says Dave Bernier, general curator at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago. “Every shipment has to have a health certificate signed by the attending veterinarian by regulation."  

Since Arturo’s medical records are spotty at best, it would be difficult for the IBPCC to import him. There’s also the issue of Arturo’s age. Polar bears only have a life expectancy of 30 years in captivity, so some people wonder if a stressful relocation would be worthwhile for a geezer like Arturo. Finally, there’s the sheer logistics of the thing. After all, Arturo is a 900-pound predator with a chip on his shoulder, and Mendoza is almost 6,000 miles from Winnipeg in the opposite hemisphere.

Still, zoos and other facilities have proven that they can transport large animals effectively. When Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium was renovated in 2008, FedEx airmailed seven whales to a host facility using large metal containers equipped with specially designed water slings. In 2013, a zoo in New Zealand successfully shipped a 15-month-old giraffe to a partner zoo in Melbourne via ocean freighter and extra-tall crate. Later that year, a rare Sumatran tiger was transported from a German zoo to a zoo in the U.K. via ferries, cranes, and an army of careful caretakers. “Animal shipments must happen at the appropriate temperature, in the proper enclosure and using a travel method that ensures the safety of both the animal and staff,” says Bernier. 

But before zoo officials can even begin to talk logistics, there’s that damn red tape—particularly the issue of incomplete medical records. Before, this seemed like a deal-breaker as the Mendoza Zoo simply cannot provide what the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) needs to approve the transfer. But Arturo’s sob story is blowing up the mainstream news cycle this week, and as more heavy-hitters get involved, the public pressure could lead to a one-time exception.

Here’s to hoping poor Arturo gets better—or gets the green light to pack his bags for the Great White North. 

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Those Planes Aren't the Problem

By now, you've likely seen the photos. On the afternoon of July 3, a train paralleling Montana’s Clark Fork River derailed at Atherton Gorge, sending payloads of soybeans, denatured alcohol (not for drinking, this is the stuff used in fuel), and Boeing plane parts into the water—and into view of stunned outdoor enthusiasts.

While photographs of the failure made waves in international news, the accident was actually more spectacle than disaster. “Since the denatured alcohol and soybeans were contained, the damage is very temporary,” Pat Saffel, fisheries manager of Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks told Outside. “There was really no impact.”

The things that really hurt the Clark Fork, and American rivers at large, aren’t as conspicuous or visible as fuselages—they tend to be subtler, come on more gradually, and cause long term damage. Of the more-than 500,000 miles of rivers analyzed in the 2004 National Water Quality Inventory, the USEPA found that 44 percent of them were impaired.

For the most part, the biggest threats to rivers are results of our attempts to control them. America’s dams, constructed to retain water and create energy, damage downstream ecosystems, disrupt the flow of nutrient-rich silt, are aging, and have little water to hold back. As a result of damming and diversion—for agricultural, municipal, and residential use—some of the largest rivers in the world are running dry, requiring intensive cooperation between countries to maintain any flow at all.

We can damage waterways when we put them to use, but rivers get caught in the crossfire when we forget to include them in our plans, too. Fertilizer runoff is the leading source of water quality damage. The way watersheds are graded, this pollution, as well as stormwater runoff from cities, inevitably ends up in rivers and streams.

Groups like American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and Wild Earth Guardians—along with other watershed groups and the USEPA—spend lots of time and money restoring (or at least improving) rivers, but all it takes is one spill to send them right back to bad places. 

“From our perspective, this is a wake up call,” said Karen Knudsen, executive director of the Clark Fork Coalition. “As disturbing as this is, imagine if it’d been tankers full of crude oil, which are increasingly shipped through Missoula. We we lucky in this case that it was just airplane parts.”

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