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Skiing and Snowboarding : Politics

Urban Forests Make Cities More Resilient to a Changing Climate

Sandy_night_NYC, Avenue C at East 6th Street, Oct. 29, 2012. Photo: David Shankbone/Flickr

The loss of life and property damage from Superstorm Sandy is still being tallied, but the catastrophe is pointing a spotlight on the need for cities to adapt to more frequent, severe storms (also referred to, in many scientific circles, as "climate change").

"Anyone who says that there's not a dramatic change in weather patterns I think is denying reality," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Tuesday.

Bill Ulfelder, the New York director of The Nature Conservancy, has only lived in New York City for three years, but during that time the city has seen its two most costly storms (Irene and Sandy) over just 14 months. "You're going to see more and more of this," he told me on Tuesday.

Fortunately for all of us who like being outside, one way to make cities more resilient to these storms is to foster large, healthy urban forests.

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Patagonia National Park Comes Into Focus

Pata_natl_prk_Eli_SteltenpohlPatagonia National Park, under construction. Photo: Eli Steltenpohl

"Buying the land was the easy part," Kristine Tompkins told a packed house during a presentation at the San Francisco Patagonia retail store last week. She was referring to the 2.2 million acres that she and her husband Doug Tompkins have acquired in Chile and Argentina over the past 20 years as part of their Herculean efforts to conserve and rehabilitate the grasslands, forests, wetlands, rivers, high alpine, and biodiversity of the Patagonia region.

The slideshow the audience watched offered an update on the Tompkins' current project, Patagonia National Park, a 200,000-acre tract that includes the Chacabuco Valley and was formerly a major sheep and cattle ranching area.

The Tompkinses are outdoor recreation industry legends and environmental firebrands. She is a founder and former CEO of Patagonia—the company—and he started both The North Face and the clothing company Esprit. Doug Tompkins started acquiring land in Chile in the early 1990s, adding adjacent parcels until he had amassed more than 700,000 acres to form Pumalin Park, which he donated to the Chilean government. But this initial foray into private wildlands philanthropy was not a smooth process, as Doug Tompkins was met with much suspicion and a fair amount of hostility over the scheme. Some Chileans and Argentineans asked: How can this foreigner waltz in, buy up the land, and tell us what we can and cannot do with it?

"It was a difficult time for me, personally," said Kris Tompkins, referring to the Pumalin Park development. As we noted in this 2001 story about the couple, the shift to Kris at the helm was an effort to put a more diplomatic foot forward, for ongoing deal-making with the Chilean and Argentinean governments.

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Powering Public Lands: Government Puts Solar Energy in the Spotlight

Maps_combo_sezLeft: BLM land open to solar development before 2011; right: BLM's current 17 solar energy zone. Maps: NRDC

Wind, solar, geothermal and other so-called green energy sources might not spew greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, but they're far from benign.

Ask any bird conservationist what she or he thinks of wind farms and you might get a less-than-glowing response. Back in 2005, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency put migratory bird mortality due to wind turbines somewhere around 440,000 each year. And solar power developers made no friends among the conservation world when the Ivanpah solar project in Southern California and adjacent to the Mojave Desert Preserve butted up against the endangered desert tortoise. The project was stalled as many hundreds of the reptiles were relocated.

"For a couple of years I was basically in cardiac arrest," says Ileene Andrerson, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. "Because of the amount of land to be developed [for renewable energy] and the piecemeal approach."

Anderson is referring to the years following the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, during which companies filed hundreds of project applications for mostly solar but also wind projects on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management, which had $350 million in ARRA funds with which it was mandated to "restore landscapes and habitat, spur renewable energy development on public lands, and create jobs."

That looks great on paper, but environmental groups quickly raised red flags over where the renewable energy developments would be sited and what oversight (or lack thereof) would be placed on them. This effectively pitted greens against greens in what looked like a counterproductive, senseless battle. But Bobby McEnaney, land policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, contends that the efforts the NRDC and similar groups have made to ensure renewable energy is developed with minimal negative impacts on wildlife, recreation access and cultural resources were rooted in lessons learned from decades of oil and gas development on public lands.

"Solar and wind energy developers would probably prefer the laissez-faire approach, which is what oil and gas developers have had on BLM land," McEnaney says. "But two wrongs don’t make a right."

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It's Hard Out There for a Wolf

Snowmaking_tim_syndeyCanus lupus. Photo: S.R. Maglione/Shutterstock

In children’s literature, wolves pretty much always get a bad rap. Think Little Red Riding Hood, the three poor pigs, and pretty much every cute, furry, unsuspecting critter in Richard Scarry’s entire opus.

In our house, we make a point of talking up wolves and pretty much all animals, wild or domesticated. Our girls are friends to dogs, seemingly fearless about snakes, and obsessed with lizards. For them, the biggest incentive to go hiking is the chance of seeing a bear—never mind that they’re both so loud they’ll likely never come within a mile of one, or that if they did, they’d be terrified. Once on a hike in town, my then-three-year-old spotted a lone coyote standing under a juniper tree on a far hill across the arroyo. A year later, she’s still talking about it. We're trying to instill in our girls an awe for wild animals and remind them that they are wild, and deserve our respect—and room to roam.

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Girl Who Fought for Education Shot by Taliban

On Tuesday, masked Taliban gunmen boarded a bus filled with schoolchildren in Pakistan and shot a 14-year-old girl in the head. Her name is Malala Yousafzai, and she is now in critical condition in a Peshawar hospital. She openly voiced her belief that girls in Pakistan should be able to get an education. For that reason, men covered their faces and hunted her down. The details of her attack come from an article in The New York Times, which featured the following statement from the Taliban:

A Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, confirmed by phone Tuesday that Ms. Yousafzai had been the target, calling her crusade for education rights an "obscenity."

"She has become a symbol of Western culture in the area; she was openly propagating it," Mr. Ehsan said, adding that if she survived, the militants would certainly try to kill her again. "Let this be a lesson."

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