The Outside Blog

Skiing and Snowboarding : Politics

Guerillas on Two Wheels

Last March, Charles Komanoff, a New York City-based statistical analyst and consultant, rode his bike from his home in Lower Manhattan to the Flatiron District to engage in some light vandalism. Looking fit, rugged, and energetic, Komanoff stopped his bike near the corner of 23rd Street and Madison Avenue to meet some co-conspirators. Everyone was on a bike, though unlike many city cyclists, everyone was wearing a helmet, and had travelled to the site in strict observance of their rights and responsibilities on the road: always riding with traffic, on the right side of the street, and obeying stop signs and traffic lights along the way.

Ten days before, a woman riding her bike east, towards this intersection, had been struck and killed by a private dump truck pulling out into traffic. After seeing video footage from a nearby security camera, Komanoff and others in the bicycle advocacy group Right of Way concluded that the cyclist had had, well, the right of way. Knowing that no arrest had been made or summons served by the police officer investigating the collision, but believing that there should have been, the Right of Way-ers unloaded some pieces of cardboard from a trailer behind Komanoff’s bike, taped them down to the ground, and set about spray-painting a message onto the pavement.

A few members acted as lookouts on either end of the street, while others used their bodies and their bikes to shield the spray-painters from public view. In a similar demonstration near the Barclays Center in Brooklyn a few months before, the group briefly co-opted a pair of traffic cones that happened to be sitting on the street, unused, and narrowly avoided a confrontation with police officers on their way to the Long Island Railroad station nearby. Then, as now, the phrases “NO CRIMINALITY SUSPECTED,” and “WHY RAY WHY?” were neatly painted onto the blacktop when they were finished.

“Ray” was Ray Kelly, then the Commissioner of the NYPD; pointing to the fact that no charge was filed, the other stencilled message referred, ironically, to a phrase frequently used by the police to describe a collision involving a non-motorist, including those in which the motorist was driving recklessly or otherwise breaking the law. Later that day, the group would paint similar memorials around the city for pedestrians who had been killed by drivers who had been speeding, jumped the curb, or run a red light. In each of these cases, no driver had been charged with a crime.

{%{"quote":"“Last summer, a San Francisco a police officer deliberately parked his car in a bike lane during a Safe Streets rally, apparently to make the point that collisions involving cars and non-motorists were ‘the bicyclist's fault.’”"}%}

A running joke among riders in New York is that the best way to kill someone, and get away with it, is to run that person over with your car. Depending on who you ask, the hostility to cyclists is not limited to their hometown. In October, Toronto's mayor Rob Ford allocated $300,000 to remove a bike lane, having declared cyclists “a pain in the ass,” and their deaths “their own fault at the end of the day."

Last summer, a San Francisco a police officer deliberately parked his car in a bike lane during a Safe Streets rally, apparently to make the point that collisions involving cars and non-motorists were "the bicyclist's fault." In Seattle, a lawmaker proposed a carbon tax for cyclists, on the grounds that cyclists, with their higher respiration, expel more CO2 into the atmosphere. And many people saw the colorful reaction of Dorothy Rabinowitz, a conservative columnist at the Wall Street Journal, to New York’s Citibike bicycle sharing system (or its subsequent parody on The Colbert Report).

After watching a RoW intervention in Midtown, one cab driver rolled down his window to solemnly tell the group: “You know what you’re doing is wrong.” There is plenty of of acrimony to go around, so much that it’s probably not stretching things to suggest that we are in the midst of a proxy culture war over the place of bicycles on our roads and in our cities, or that the occasionally illegal guerilla efforts by Komanoff and company is simply stoking the fire; at least after the confrontation with the cab driver, they were undeterred. “We’re doing something for the public good,” Stephan Keegan, Right of Way’s chief organizer, told the NY Times last September, “So I think it’s O.K., even if it’s illegal.”

FRUSTRATED WITH CITY OFFICIALS doing nothing or very little to protect cyclists, a growing number of groups around North America have taken to this kind of DIY activism, much of it unauthorized if not downright illegal—painting bike lanes, putting up speed limit signs, installing unsanctioned barriers, or drawing “sharrows” (chevron-shaped arrows meant to encourage motorists to share the road with cyclists), which they feel the authorities should be doing anyway.

Others, while still meant to provoke the police, have been more sanguine. In 2010, members of Right of Way wore white hazmat suits labeled “Bureau Of Organized Bikelane Safety (BOOBS),” and rode around with a set of portable speakers to play “The Safety Dance,” by the 1980s synth-pop group Men Without Hats. A year ago, participants in a sister group called Times Up! dressed as clowns and handed out authentic-looking parking tickets to cars who were parked in bike lanes.

Stephan has been arrested multiple times, and at least once for his involvement in “clown rides,” when he was accused of impersonating a police officer. (At the time, Stephan was wearing a comically fake-looking uniform, as was his accomplice, Barbara Ross, whose red, adult-sized tricycle was confiscated. The two countersued for wrongful arrest, and in January, the city settled in mediation, agreeing to pay Stephan and Ross $11,000 apiece.)

Stephan has an idea of what attracts attention, and of what’s funny, even though when speaking about his work with Right of Way, his voice is usually flat and matter-of-fact. 286 people died in traffic collisions in New York last year, including 173 pedestrians, and while he is encouraged by the prospects of Vision Zero, a plan unveiled by the new mayor, Bill De Blasio, to end traffic fatalities by 2024, Stephan is at least a little skeptical, and a little indignant.

“We still have people dying,” he told me in recently. “You have to constantly push the envelope forward, or you’re going to go backward.”

GORDON DOUGLAS, A PHD candidate in sociology at the University of Chicago, uses the term “DIY urban design” to describe some of the work Right of Way is involved in. Some of its practitioners describe themselves as “radicals,” but most, he says, are simply private citizens working on their own to make public space more livable. “Often they’ll pretty explicitly acknowledge that the city doesn’t have the resources, or doesn’t have the authority,” he says. “So they say, ‘We have 300 bucks, and we know how to go to Home Depot and buy a lane striper. So why not?’”

Douglas says the typical DIY urban designer is a practical, civic-minded person who isn’t looking for trouble. This, by most accounts, was the attitude behind a bike lane painted by the Other Urban Repair Squad, an anonymous group in Toronto.

In the fall of 2005, members of the group turned their attention to a planned bike lane near the Huron-Sussex branch of the University of Toronto, which never came into being. Located near a subway stop, the stretch of Bloor Street between Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street was a main artery for students. It had been a candidate for a bike lane conversion since the mid-1990s, and was singled out for a lane in the city’s official Bike Plan in 2001. The OURS members believed they had waited long enough, and so in October, they intervened by laying down a stenciled image of a cyclist, complete with a diamond shape used by the city. They even donned orange vests to redirect traffic, while waiting for the paint to dry.

Martin Reis, a photojournalist who lives in Toronto, noticed OURS’s work a few days later, and was chagrined when a manager of city road operations had it painted over (at the reported cost of $1,973.74).

“City council is bizarre in Toronto,” Reis said over the phone. “They see cycling either as a fringe activity, or an inconvenient form of transportation that they have to deal with.”

Members of OURS have described the 2005 action as “a test run.” It was replaced by a pink stencil, on the same street, in March 2006. Reis posted a picture of the painting on his blog, and soon, he was receiving emails from cyclists around the world, with photographs of projects like the one he saw. Through Reis, OURS also shared a pdf of a do-it-yourself manual for people who wanted to copy them.

“Despite their small size, these interventions make an impact,” Douglas wrote in an article last spring. “Even if these interventions are removed by authorities, they suggest the sort of city that residents actually want to see, something that authorities occasionally even recognize.”

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/komanoff_fe.jpg","caption":"Charles Komanoff in his New York City office."}%}

By and large, the projects Reis has documented are, indeed, small, but in cities where cyclists don’t necessarily feel welcome, they tend to stand out. Jimena Veloz, a blogger who lives in Mexico City, heard about the project in Toronto around 2009, when she was still in school. She has since joined a like-minded collective called Camina Haz Ciudad, and has searched for places for them to install DIY bike lanes that will attract attention.

“What we concluded here in Mexico City is that even though we want it, we can’t make the infrastructure ourselves,” Veloz says. “It’s too expensive, it’s too big for us to do that. But what we have done are very strategic projects that can catalyze government action.”

Rather than avoid police, members of CHC engage them deliberately, and in the past have painted bike lanes directly in front of the capitol, where the Congress of the Union meets. Most passersby—including a few members of Congress—spoke approvingly. When they were approached by the police, the group simply asserted that what they were doing was necessary and legal.

“It’s also the Mexican context, where mostly everyone does whatever they like,” Jimena says. “The police don’t have much. Of course they can arrest you, but they usually don’t, not even if you’re doing something really illegal. But if you are, they will stop you and ask you for money.”

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/prioridad-bike-safety_fe.jpg","caption":"Colective Camina, Haz Ciudad painted the streets and posted signs like this near Mexico City's Congress of the Union building."}%}

So far, no one in CHC has been arrested. Indeed, as much as stories about a “war on bicycles” (or, for that matter, a “war on cars”) might gather public attention, it is a challenge to find even one cantankerous urban planner who actually hates guerilla bicycle groups. In some cases, city governments welcome the citizens’ interventions, and say thank you.

THIS PAST APRIL, A GROUP in Seattle decided to modify a steep stretch of Cherry Street, a few blocks from City Hall. Tom Fucoloro, an Illinois native who moved to Seattle in 2009, rode through the area frequently, and while there had been a painted bike lane for a long time, he never felt entirely safe.

“It wasn't very comfortable to be huffing your way up the hill,” he said, adding that the road was very close to on-ramps to I-5. “When you're only going a few miles per hour, it can be really unsettling.”

With about $350 worth of equipment, members of the group Reasonably Polite Seattleites placed some plastic pylons along the path, photographed them, and then, like OURS, emailed their friendly local blogger. Fucoloro, who authors the Seattle Bike Blog, also received a few paragraphs explaining how the pylons would make riders feel safer, and noting that they were in any case put in place with a light adhesive (instead of epoxy, which is more permanent).

“If they so choose,” the group added, “Mayor McGinn and SDOT [Seattle Department of Transportation] can remove these in a matter of minutes.”

The pylons were, indeed, removed, but not without an equally polite response from Dungho Chang, Seattle’s Traffic Engineer, followed by another email, a few months later, explaining that the barriers they had originally installed would be made permanent.

When I spoke to him over the phone, Chang was busy making preparations for a parade to honor the Seattle Seahawks, who had just won the 2014 Super Bowl. He sounded cheerful and heartened, said he’d “always dreamed” of having his current job, and described the RPS intervention as “very humbling.”

“You are absolutely correct that there are low cost and simple ways to slow traffic, increase the sense of protection, and provide bicycle facilities that are more pleasant and accommodating for a larger portion of people who ride bicycles,” Chang wrote in an email to RPS. “I am truly appreciative that you care enough to take time, money, and risk to send your message to me and my staff.”

IN HIS OPTIMISM, his friendliness, and his eagerness to work with the anonymous group, Chang is in a minority. Perhaps because of the inherent pushiness of city life, or perhaps because the groups’ strategy is innately subversive and sneaky, attempts at a detente between motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians have continued to feel like the opposite: confrontational, and, at times, nasty.

Last spring, while riding downhill on Troy Avenue in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, stencilers from RoW were tailed by the driver of a grey SUV, who honked his horn, frustrated at their taking up the whole lane, and accelerated when the vehicle finally sped past. A few blocks further down, he narrowly avoided two pedestrians, a Hasidic couple, who were pushing a stroller across the street.

When I asked Komanoff about it later, he shrugged. “It’s like going to the zoo,” he said. “You’re observing some kind of some species that you know you’re connected to, and yet it’s quite alien.”

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New Efforts to Free a Captive Killer Whale

Should a captive killer whale be listed under the Endangered Species Act? That is the question NOAA is considering with regard to a wild-caught killer whale named Lolita who has been performing shows at Miami's Seaquarium for more than 40 years. Lolita was captured as a calf in Puget Sound in 1970, from a group of killer whales known as the Southern Residents. In 2005 the Southern Residents were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), with Lolita excluded from the listing. But last week the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Division—in response to a petition filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund and PETA—proposed a rule that would add Lolita to her extended family's ESA listing.

"The government is now poised to reverse the unlawful and unexplained 2005 decison to deny Lolita protection under the Endangered Species Act. It's a huge first step, but it's only a first step," says Jared Goodman, Director of Animal Law at PETA, which is also suing the U.S. Departmernt Of Agriculture for renewing Miami Seaquarium's licence to display Lolita despite keeping her in conditions (especially her small pool) which PETA argues are in violation of the Animal Welfare Act.

NOAA is now seeking scientific and expert comment on the proposed rule, and a final decision could be a year away. But if Lolita is, in the end, granted endangered status, she would be the first captive killer whale to get that protection and Miami Seaquarium would have to apply for a special permit to keep her.

Andrew Hertz, Miami Seaquarium's General Manager, has been fighting efforts to free Lolita (the marine park's lone orca since her male companion, Hugo, died in 1980), for years. In a statement to local news, Hertz said: "This decision is not final. Based on NMFS' announcement, Lolita will continue to be an ambassador for her species from her home at Miami Seaquarium."

Animal welfare advocates hope that NOAA's proposed rule is the first step toward Lolita's journey back to her family. Plans have long existed to create a retirement seapen for Lolita in the waters frequented by her immediate family group (the killer whale believed to be her mother is still alive). But even if Miami Seaquarium in the end has to give Lolita up, NOAA expressed concern about returning her to her native waters, noting in its review of Lolita's case that "release of a captive animal into the wild has the potential to injure or kill not only the particular animal, but also the wild populations of that same species."

Naomi Rose, a killer-whale expert with the Animal Welfare Institute, says that absent a solid seapen plan, including funding, it is possible that Lolita could even end up at another marine park, with better facilities, such as SeaWorld. And she acknowledges the risks involved in transporting a killer whale that is estimated to be almost 50, and the mixed memories about the fate of Keiko—of Free Willy fame—who died after being returned to his native waters off Iceland. Still, Rose says: "The big difference is the proposed sea pen would be where Lolita's family is. It could flip her out completely, or she would cope like she has coped all these years. I don't think anyone knows. It's difficult to be playing God with her, but keeping her at Miami Seaquarium is playing God, too. If the law says she can't stay there, then the potential of a sea pen is far greater than in that pool."

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Why Duck Dynasty Can't Be Stopped

Back in December 2013, Phil Robertson, the bearded star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, said some offensive things about black people and gay people. Robertson became the subject of boycotts and counter-boycotts, Cracker Barrel yanked his Duck Commander merch, and A&E suspended the show.

But outrage requires shock, and Robertson’s views shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his empire. (While I’ve watched only a couple of episodes of Duck Dynasty, I confess to being a waterfowler and a casual fan of Robertson’s more baroque early work, a hook-and-bullet series on the Outdoor Channel called Duck Commander.)

The reality star’s rants about "gross sexual immorality" are all over the Internet. Robertson plays a stereotypically backward Deep South hillbilly. America’s outrage centered on the fact that Robertson embodied his caricature too well.

Robertson is the biggest star of the biggest boom in reality TV: hicksploitation. The genre laughs at (and sometimes with) the last group of people it’s still ostensibly OK to stereotype—white backwoodsy men. The modern iteration launched in 2011 with Animal Planet’s Hillbilly Handfishin’, about Oklahoma catfish noodlers, then MTV offered its West Virginia–based Buckwild. We have now waded deep into swamp country, with Discovery’s Swamp Loggers, the History Channel’s Swamp People, and Animal Planet’s Swamp Wars. But Duck Dynasty has dominated the category since debuting in March 2012. The season four premiere, in August 2013, netted A&E 11.8 million viewers. Last year, Duck Commander merchandise made more than $400 million. Viewers laugh, but the joke isn’t on the men in camo.

"They’re highly intelligent guys who don’t get anything pulled over on them," says Duck Dynasty executive producer Scott Gurney. "And they’re funny."

It’s also not a new trick. "The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction—these were massive hits in the sixties," says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "They were called hick-coms back then."

Why are the shows so popular now? It’s hard to say whether Americans like to laugh at rubes or are envious of men who can hunt all day and ignore basic hygiene. One thing is for sure—the shows are immensely profitable, in part because they’re cheaper to produce than man-versus-nature shows like Deadliest Catch. "Duck Dynasty and the rest of them have modest production values and location requirements," says Thompson.

Two days before Christmas, Cracker Barrel returned the Duckmen products to its shelves to appease angry customers. Four days later, A&E reinstated the show. Robertson didn’t comment, but his son Willie, CEO of Duck Commander products, tweeted, "Ole Phil may be a little crude but his heart is good. He’s the Real Deal!"

He’d better be. In January, Animal Planet unveiled its latest show, this one about a family of Canadian trappers called Beaver Brothers. Its star is a 65-year-old trapper named Charlie Landry. "I think you’ll like him for his expertise," says producer Keith Hoffman. "Plus he talks funny."

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Can Snowboarding Be Saved?

I was a state college kid the first and only time I rode a snowboard. This was in the 1980s and snowboarding was still illegal at New Hampshire's ski resorts. A classmate from New York City named after Dylan Thomas (and who called everybody he didn't like a chucklehead) brought a board to campus after the winter break. It was a Burton Woody. Skegs on the base. No edges. You just strapped your Sorels in and went.

Actually it wasn't that easy. First we had to boot pack up a local gravel pit, lock into the board, and take turns pushing each other bobsled-style off the ridge. Before exhaustion took hold, I remember laying the board over for one glorious powder turn. Effortless flotation. The way the G-forces seemed to sink into your gut. Snowboarding was a hoot; it was way cooler than standing up on a toboggan.

But it didn't hook me. It's not that I didn't think snowboarding was relevant, I did and I still do. But I was already a passionate skier and never once considered giving it up. Still, I supported my friends in the fight to open resorts to the fledgling sport, hired snowboarders to run nascent board departments in 50-year-old ski shops, helped Olympic snowboard racers figure out their stance angles and tuning, ran photos and profiles of snowboarders in a magazine about skiing, chased powder with snowboarders, climbed and descended Mount Rainier with snowboarders, and cracked many an après beer with snowboarders.

{%{"quote":"Industrialized snowboarding hates diversity. Those Olympic snowboarders we used to welcome in our shop? They were once part of a small but vibrant recreational snowboard carving community."}%}

It sounds like borderline bigotry to say it, but I have "snowboarding friends." In fact, from adulthood on, most of my skiing memories are tied up with snowboarding. Frankly, skiing would be a lot less fun without it. From twin tips and fat skis to better clothing and a more laissez-faire attitude at ski resorts, the advent of snowboarding dramatically altered my once-stale sport. So please trust that I'm not just a hater when I say this: Snowboarding is screwed.

Many a destination resort will admit privately that snowboarding now accounts for less than 15 percent of total revenue. Others have seen snowboard visits cut in half. Sales of snowboarding gear are down dramatically, too, a whopping 29 percent over the past six years. Where did all the snowboarders go? Many are skiing. Others simply quit.

It didn't really have to be like this. The problem isn't so much snowboarding, but the snowboarding industry. The sport was invented by humble folk in the Midwest (by a friend's father) and Vermont (by some older classmates of my wife), but it was adopted by Southern California. Actually it was more of an alien rendition than an adoption. Most snowboarders in places like Maine, Montana, and Colorado have little affiliation with the carefully cultivated image of "action sports." Then there's the ageism. Over 30 years old but still get out and shred? The industry lives in absolute dread of you.

I'm not making this up. Each February I experience the unrestrained joy of attending the ski and snowboard trade show in Denver. Here's what I see when I walk the snowboard section: Underage snowboarders puking in the corridors after one too many keg stands—at 10 a.m. And overseeing all this fabricated youthfulness? Fifty-year-old white dudes in flat-brim caps, tight jeans, and designer flannel. Chuckleheads. Leveraging snowboarding's rebel cred, they modeled its image on skateboarding and aimed it almost entirely at teenagers.

That worked great for a while. Then snowboarding went mainstream—the X Games, Mountain Dew ads, Shaun White—and, inevitably, it lost a bit of its mojo. The first generation of riders got real jobs and started having kids, and snowboarding's image never matured to accommodate them.

As snowboarding went narrow, skiing went big. Today's skiers can choose to carve turns, launch off the slopestyle jumps, hammer bumps, navigate steeps, tour the backcountry, rip bottomless pow, race in a beer league, or just go skiing like a vacationer from Chicago or Boca Friggin' Raton. It's cool; there's a place for you and a group of likeminded folks who would love to have you. Cooler still if you're a lifelong enthusiast? Dabble in all the above. Skiing isn't golf; there's always some new adventure waiting for you.

But industrialized snowboarding hates diversity. Those Olympic snowboarders we used to welcome in our shop? They were once part of a small but vibrant recreational snowboard carving community. Think stiff and long boards with deep sidecuts that you could lay down so deep your tongue was dragging on the corduroy. It gave certain snowboarders something to do when there wasn't fresh snow or when the idea of beating the piss out yourself in the terrain park didn't sound all that inviting. And then the major brands stopped making carving boards. The image didn't fly with the baggy jeans/tight jeans set. Thou shalt emulate the flying tomato and only the flying tomato. Check it out: White cut his hair and wears a suit now, while snowboarding. Time to buy a new wardrobe kids!

The same tunnel vision nearly ruined skateboarding. Snowboarding is even more anti-business. An example: In the magazine I used to edit about skiing, we frequently included Burton apparel because in the real world it's much adored by people like, say, the National Brotherhood of Skiers—grown up black people with gobs of cash who both ski and snowboard. But get this: After a few years Burton refused to send product or even images for inclusion because they didn't want to be affiliated with an older demo, or, egad!, skiers. Lately, Burton has expanded its world-view—while contracting its business. But even last year Jake Burton publicly stated he'd never allow simple scuff guards to be sewn onto Burton pants—because skiers need scuff guards.

A similar experience befell big mountain snowboarding pioneer Jeremy Jones. Not only is Jones (whose brothers famously founded Teton Gravity Research) the greatest sender of 50-degree-plus, powder-choked faces in the history of snowboarding, he's also a genuine, friendly, sentient human being who cares about the environment and the future of the sport he loves. In addition to founding the global-warming action group Protect Our Winters!—POW!—a few years back, Jones was keen on getting 30-plus-year-old snowboarders to embrace lower-impact backcountry riding, much as has happened with skiing.

Jones had some great ideas for product and a new line of split boards, which bisect for ski touring uphill and click together into a snowboard for the descent. He went so far as to pitch the big snowboard companies on the idea. He's too nice to say it, but those companies pretty much flipped him the bird. Their reasoning? Backcountry snowboarding is for old dudes. So Jones started his own company, Jones Snowboards, which lines up well with his successful trilogy of films that celebrate human powered snowboarding. Jones Snowboards is doing well; they're growing in a declining market, as are a few other brands, like Venture, a small Colorado producer that primarily builds deeply rockered boards (a design invented by skiers) purpose-built for powder turns and the sustainable snowboarding life.

Even with the Jeremy Joneses of the sport, though, in my circle of friends there are just fewer snowboarders. Most have made the switch to skiing. When asked, the few holdouts I know mumble something like: "I don't know why I keep going. I just love snowboarding."

It would be easy to say that skiing somehow beat snowboarding, but that ski/board dichotomy, that animus, only exists in the fading minds of skiers in mothballed Norwegian sweaters and bleary-eyed action-sports marketers.

I used to live with one such polarized guy in a ski condo in Summit County, Colorado. His last name was Stern and we called him "Sternoman," as if he was an undiscovered hominid. He was a horrid skier from (my apologies for picking on you) Southern California. By that I mean he was dangerous. On the hill we would hide behind trees so as not to be bludgeoned by his plummeting goonery. Sitting on our dumpster couch one night eating the last of our food cache, Sternoman, who was late on his rent, pronounced that he was switching over to snowboarding. He said the new sport would kill skiing in ten years because you could catch more air, go faster, and ride powder more efficiently on a snowboard. Instead of, in due turn, bludgeoning him, we took his rent money and gave him the bum's rush.

What's there to fight about? Skiing has proven to be bigger, faster, more efficient, and ultimately more welcoming than snowboarding. And that last point is the salient one. My Irish grandparents were the orphaned children of immigrants killed off in the Spanish Flu. After World War II they became skiers, and now my kids continue that legacy, as undoubtedly their grandchildren will as well. Skiing lives on because it's far more than a trendy action sport. Skiing is a way of life. There's a sinew to it that holds families and friends together.

But juvenile marketers can't take all the credit for killing snowboarding. The sport has some fundamental challenges. For one, it's more dangerous than skiing: As a snowboarder, you're more likely to break a wrist or an arm, and, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, you're also way more likely to get a concussion. This could help explain why more and more parents are putting their kids on skis instead of snowboards. (The number of first-time snowboarders under the age of 14 is at a 13-year low.) Of course, part of that decline probably has to do with those same marketers shunning snowboarding parents. Who, by the way, do exist. Despite the declines, up to 45 percent of snowboarders are now over the age of 25.

And why are they hanging with a sport that doesn't care about them anymore? Because snowboarding is fun. And, ultimately, that's all that matters. If, like skiing, the industry does a better job of making everybody feel comfortable, it might even thrive. If not, skiing will continue to absorb snowboarders, much as Homo sapiens absorbed Neanderthals. Take what you will from that analogy. And allow me to preempt your letter to the editor: I'm a hater.

Also read: Snowboarding is dead? Hardly. Reports of the sport's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

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Blood in the Sand: Killing a Turtle Advocate

IT WAS ONLY eight o'clock on the evening of May 30, 2013, but the beach was completely dark. The moon hadn't yet risen above Playa Moín, a 15-mile-long strand of mangrove and palm on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. A two-door Suzuki 4x4 bumped along a rough track behind the beach. The port lights of Limón, the largest town on the coast, glowed six miles away on the horizon. There was no sound except the low roar of surf and the whine of the engine straining through drifts of sand.

Riding shotgun was Jairo Mora Sandoval, a 26-year-old Costa Rican conservationist. With a flop of black hair and a scraggly beard, he wore dark clothes and a headlamp, which he used to spot leatherback sea turtle nests on the beach. Mora's friend Almudena, a 26-year-old veterinarian from Spain, was behind the wheel. The other passengers were U.S. citizens: Rachel, Katherine, and Grace, college students who had come to work at the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, a nonprofit animal-rescue center. Almudena was the resident vet, and the Americans were volunteers. By day they cared for the sanctuary's menagerie of sloths, monkeys, and birds. Working with Mora, though, meant taking the graveyard shift. He ran the sanctuary's program rescuing endangered leatherbacks, which haul their 700-plus-pound bodies onto Playa Moín each spring to lay eggs at night.

The beach's isolation made it both ideal and perilous as a nesting spot. The same blackness that attracted the turtles, which are disoriented by artificial light, provided cover for less savory human activity. In recent years, the thinly populated Caribbean coast has become a haven for everything from petty theft to trafficking of Colombian cocaine and Jamaican marijuana. For decades, Playa Moín has been a destination for hueveros—literally, "egg men"—small-time poachers who plunder sea turtle nests and sell the eggs for a dollar each as an aphrodisiac. But as crime along the Caribbean coast has risen, so has organized egg poaching, which has helped decimate the leatherback population. By most estimates, fewer than 34,000 nesting females remain worldwide.

Since 2010, Mora had been living at the sanctuary and patrolling the beach for a nonprofit organization called the Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network, or Widecast. His strategy was to beat the hueveros to the punch by gathering eggs from freshly laid nests and spiriting them to a hatchery on the sanctuary grounds. This was dangerous work. Every poacher on Moín knew Mora, and confrontations were frequent—he once jumped out of a moving truck to tackle a huevero.

Rachel, Grace, and Almudena had accompanied Mora on foot patrols several times over the previous weeks. (Out of concern for their safety, all four women requested that their last names not be used.) They had encountered no trouble while moving slowly on foot, but they also hadn't found many unmolested nests. On this night, Mora had convinced Almudena to take her rental car. She was worried about the poachers, but she hadn't yet seen a leatherback, and Mora was persuasive. His passion was infectious, and a romance between the two had blossomed. Almudena was attracted by his boundless energy and commitment. Something about this beach gets in you, he told her.

The sand was too deep for the Suzuki, so Mora got out and walked toward the beach, disappearing in the night. Moín's primal darkness is essential to sea turtles. After hatching at night, the baby turtles navigate toward the brightest thing around: the whiteness of the breaking waves. Males spend their lives at sea, but females, guided by natal homing instincts, come ashore every two or three years to lay eggs, often to the same beaches where they hatched.

{%{"quote":"Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs."}%}

Around 10:30, Almudena got a call—Mora had found a leatherback. The women rushed to the beach, where they saw a huge female baula backfilling a nesting hole with its hind flippers. Mora stood nearby alongside several hueveros. One was instantly recognizable, a 36-year-old man named Maximiliano Gutierrez. With his beard and long reddish-brown dreadlocks, "Guti" was a familiar presence on Moín.

Mora had forged a reluctant arrangement with Guti and a few other regular poachers: if they arrived at a nest simultaneously, they'd split the eggs. After measuring the turtle—it was nearly six feet long—Mora and Rachel took half the nest, about 40 cue-ball-size eggs, and put them into a plastic bag. Then Guti wandered off, and the turtle pulled itself back toward the surf.

When they returned to the road, a police patrol pulled up. The cops warned Mora that they had run into some rough characters earlier that night, then drove off as Mora and the women headed south, toward the sanctuary, just six miles away. Soon they came upon a palm trunk laid across the narrow track—a trick the hueveros often played to mess with police patrols. Mora hopped out, hefting the log out of the way as Almudena drove past. Just as Mora put the log back, five men stepped out of the darkness. Bandannas covered their faces. They shouted at everyone to put their hands up and their heads down. Then they grabbed Mora.

"Dude, I'm from Moín!" he protested, but the men threw him to the ground.

Masked faces crowded into Almudena's window. The men demanded money, jewelry, phones, car keys. They pulled Almudena out and frisked her, and the Americans stayed in the car as the men rifled through it, snatching everything of value, including the turtle eggs. Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard.

The driver pulled off next to a shack in the jungle, and the men, claiming to be looking for cell phones, told the girls to lift their shirts and drop their pants. Mosquitoes swarmed them. After being frisked, Almudena caught a glimpse of two of the men driving off in the Suzuki. Mora was still in the trunk.

The four young women sat on logs behind the hut with two of their captors. The guys seemed young, not more than 20, and were oddly talkative for criminals. They said they understood what the conservationists were trying to do, but they needed to feed their families. One said that Mora "didn't respect the rules of the beach."

The men announced that they were going to get some coconuts, walked away, and never came back. After an hour, the women decided to make a break for it. Huddled close together, they walked down to the beach and headed south toward the sanctuary. They were terrified and stunned, barely speaking and moving on autopilot. Two hours later they finally reached the gate but found no sign of Mora. Almudena started to sob. A caretaker called the police in Limón, and soon a line of vehicles raced north along the beach track. At 6:30 a.m. the police radio crackled. They had found Almudena's car, buried up to its axles in sand. There was a body beside it.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/jairo-mora-sandoval_fe.jpg","caption":"Jairo Mora Sandoval."}%}

MORA WAS FOUND naked and facedown on the beach, his hands bound behind him and a large gash on the back of his head. The official cause of death was asphyxiation—he'd aspirated sand deep into his lungs.

The news spread quickly. A chorus of tweets cast Mora as an environmental martyr akin to Chico Mendes, the Brazilian rain forest activist who was assassinated in 1988. The BBC, The New York Times, and The Washington Post picked up the story. An online petition started by the nonprofit Sea Turtle Restoration Project called on Costa Rican president Laura Chinchilla for justice and gathered 120,000 signatures. Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society and the star of Whale Wars, offered $30,000 to anyone who could identify the killers. "Jairo is no longer simply a murder statistic," Watson wrote. "He is now an icon."

There was a sense, too, that this killing would be bad for business. Long the self-styled ecotourism capital of the world, Costa Rica relies on international travelers for 10 percent of its GDP. "What would have happened if the young female North American volunteers were murdered?" wrote one hotel owner in an open e-mail to the country's ecotourism community. "Costa Rica would have a huge, long-lasting P.R. problem." Not long after, President Chinchilla took to Twitter to vow that there would be "no impunity" and that the killers would be caught.

That task fell to detectives from the Office of Judicial Investigation (OIJ), Costa Rica's equivalent of the FBI, and Limón's police department. The OIJ attempted to trace the victims' stolen cell phones, but the devices appeared to have been switched off and their SIM cards removed. Almudena, Grace, Katherine, and Rachel gave depositions before leaving the country, but it was clear that finding other witnesses would be a challenge.

Moín is backed by a scattering of run-down houses behind high walls. It's the kind of place where neighbors know one another's business but don't talk about it, especially to cops. The hueveros met OIJ investigators with silence. When detectives interviewed Guti, he was so drunk he could barely speak.

Not everyone kept quiet, though. Following the murder, Vanessa Lizano, the founder of the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary, dedicated herself to fighting for her fallen colleague's legacy. I e-mailed her and asked if I could come visit, and she welcomed me.

I flew to San José two weeks after the killing, arriving at the sanctuary after dusk. Lizano, 36, unlocked a high gate adorned with a brightly painted butterfly. "Welcome to Moín," she said in a theatrical voice, her auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail. The property covered about a dozen acres of rainforest and was dotted with animal pens. Paintings of Costa Rica's fauna adorned every surface. Lizano opened a pen and picked up a baby howler monkey, which wrapped its tail around her neck like a boa. "I keep expecting Jairo to just show up," she said. "I guess I haven't realized it yet."

Lizano had been running a modeling agency in San José in 2005 when she and her parents decided to open a butterfly farm near the beach. She leased a small piece of land and moved to Moín with her infant son, Federico, or "Fedé," her parents, and a three-toed sloth named Buda. They gradually transformed the farm into a sanctuary, acquiring rescued sloths and monkeys, a one-winged owl, and a pair of scarlet macaws seized from an imprisoned narcotrafficker. Fedé pulled baby armadillos around in his Tonka trucks and shared his bed with Buda.

{%{"quote":"Almudena saw two of the men stuffing a limp Mora into the tiny cargo area. The four women were jammed into the backseat with a masked man sprawled on top of them. As the driver turned the Suzuki around, Almudena reached behind the seat and felt Mora slip his palm into hers. He squeezed hard."}%}

Lizano operated the sanctuary with her mother, Marielos, and a rotation of international volunteers, who paid $100 a week for room and board—a common model for small-scale ecotourism in Costa Rica. The sanctuary was never a moneymaker, but Lizano loved working with the animals.

Then, one day in 2009, she discovered several dead leatherbacks on the beach that had been gutted for their egg sacs. "I went crazy," she says. She attended a sea turtle conservation training program in Gandoca, run by Widecast, a nonprofit that operates in 43 countries. There she met Mora, who'd been working with Widecast since he was 15. Lizano arranged for the organization to operate a turtle program out of her sanctuary, and in 2010 Mora moved to Moín to help run it.

They soon developed something like a sibling rivalry. They'd psych themselves up by watching Whale Wars, then compete to see who could gather more nests. Normally a goofball and unabashed flirt, Mora turned gravely serious when on patrol. He loved the turtles deeply, but he seemed to love the fight for them even more. Lizano worried that his stubbornness may have made things worse on the night he was killed.

"Jairo wouldn't have gone without a fight," she said. "He was a very, very tough guy."

Lizano told me that her mission was now to realize Mora's vision of preserving Playa Moín as a national park. She had been advocating for the preserve to anyone who would listen—law enforcement, the government, the media. It was a frustrating campaign. The turtle program had been shut down in the wake of the killing, and poaching had continued. Meanwhile, Lizano seemed certain that people around Moín knew who the killers were, but she had little faith in the police. On the night of the murder, when Erick Calderón, Limón's chief of police, called to inform her that Mora had been killed, she screamed at him. Since 2010, Calderón had intermittently provided police escorts for the sanctuary's patrollers, and by 2013 he'd suspended them because of limited resources. Prior to the killings, Lizano and Mora had asked repeatedly for protection, to no avail. The murder, Lizano said, was Calderón's fault.

But there was plenty of recrimination to go around. The ecotourism community blamed Lizano and Widecast for putting volunteers at risk. The family of one of the Americans, Grace, had demanded that Widecast reimburse her for her stolen camera, phone, and sneakers. Lizano told me the accusations were unfair. "The volunteers knew what they were getting into," she said. "We would say, 'It's up to you if you want to go out.' "

Still, she was overwhelmed with guilt. "I know Jairo was scared, because I used to tease him," she said. "We'd make fun of each other for being afraid. We'd always kidaround that we would die on the beach." She'd tell him that she wanted her ashes carried into the surf by a sea turtle. Mora was less sentimental. "He always said, 'You can do whatever, I really don't care. Just drink a lot. Throw a party.' "

We sat in the open-air kitchen, and Lizano held her head in her hands. "If you've got to blame somebody, blame me," she said. "I was the one who took Jairo and showed him the beach, and he fell in love."

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/poachers-on-the-beach_fe.jpg","caption":"Hueveros: The man on the right, Guti, saw Mora the night he was killed."}%}

MORA WAS BORN in Gandoca, a tiny Caribbean town near the Panama border. He caught the wildlife bug early, from his grandfather, Jerónimo Matute, an environmentalist who helped found the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a sea turtle nesting area. Jairo began releasing hatchlings at age six. Once
he became a full-time Widecast employee, he sent much of his salary home every month to his mother, Fernanda, and completed high school through a correspondence program.

By 2010, Mora had moved to Moín, living in a tiny room over the sanctuary's kitchen. Some days, Mora and the volunteers—college students, mainly, from all over the world—counted poached nests or monitored the sanctuary's hatchery; some nights they'd go on patrol. Mora was clear about the risks involved, and some chose not to go, but others joined eagerly. It didn't seem that dangerous, especially in the early days, when the Limón police accompanied the patrols.

Still, there were tensions from the beginning. During nesting season, the hueveros squatted in shacks in the jungle. Most were desperately poor, many were addicts, and all considered Lizano and Mora competition. Lizano had no qualms about reporting poachers to the police.

A leatherback typically lays 80 fertilized eggs and covers them with about 30 yolkless ones. Poachers consider the yolkless eggs worthless and usually toss them aside. Lizano and Mora often placed those eggs on top of broken glass, causing a poacher to cut himself while digging for the good ones. Lizano even set volunteers to work smashing glass to carry in buckets to the beach. She sometimes found obscene notes scrawled in the sand. She'd write back: Fuck You.

Lizano got caught in shootouts between police and poachers at the beach four times, once having to duck for cover behind a leatherback. In April 2011, she was driving alone at night on Moín when she came across a tree blocking the road. Two men with machetes jumped out of the forest and ran toward her truck. She floored it in reverse down the dirt road, watching as the men with the machetes chased, their eyes full of hate.

{%{"quote":"A few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing."}%}

In the spring of 2012, Calderón suspended the police escorts. Limón had the highest crime rate in Costa Rica, and the police chief was spread too thin trying to protect the city's human population, never mind the turtles. Mora and Lizano shifted to more conciliatory tactics. They hired ten hueveros and paid each of them a salary of $300 per month, using money from the volunteers' fees. In return, the men would give up poaching and work on conservation. Guti was one of the first to sign on. The hueveros walked the beach with the volunteers, gathering nests and bringing them to the hatchery. It was a steep pay cut—an industrious huevero can make as much as $200 a night—so Lizano pushed the idea that the poachers could eventually work in the more viable long game of ecotourism, guiding tourists to nesting sites. But the money for the project quickly ran out, and Lizano wasn't surprised when poaching increased soon after.

Around the same time, a menacing poaching gang showed up on Playa Moín. They seemed far more organized than the typical booze-addled hueveros. The group dropped men along the beach by van, using cell phones to warn each other of approaching police. They were led by a Nicaraguan named Felipe "Renco" Arauz, now 38, who had a long criminal history, including drug trafficking and kidnapping.

In April 2012, a group of men armed with AK-47's broke into the hatchery, tied up five volunteers, and beat a cousin of Mora's with their rifle butts. Then they stole all 1,500 of the eggs that had been collected that season. Mora, out patrolling the beach, returned to find the volunteers tied up. He went ballistic, punching the walls. Then he exacted vengeance, going on a frenzy of egg gathering, accompanied once again by armed police protection. Mora collected 19 nests in three nights, completely replacing the eggs that had been stolen. But a few weeks later, Calderón once again suspended escorts, and no arrests were made.

A month after the hatchery raid, in May 2012, the dangers became too much even for Lizano. She was at a restaurant in downtown Limón when she spotted a man taking Fedé's photo with his cell phone. She recognized him as a huevero and confronted him angrily: "It's me you want. Leave the kid out of it." The man laughed at her. That was the final straw. She moved with Fedé back to San José, returning to Moín alone on weekends.

Mora remained, however, and when the 2013 season began in March, he returned to his patrols—mostly alone, but occasionally with volunteers. By this point, the volunteer program was entirely Mora's operation. The Americans, who arrived in April, knew there were risks. But according to Rachel, Mora never told her about the raid on the hatchery the year before. She entrusted her safety to him completely. "I had gone out numerous times with Jairo and never really felt in danger," she told me. "I knew he was there and wouldn't let anything happen to me."

But just a few weeks before his death, Mora told a newspaper reporter that threats were increasing and the police were ignoring Widecast's pleas for help. He called his mother, Fernanda, every night before he went on patrol, asking for her blessing. When Lizano saw Fernanda at Mora's funeral, she asked for her forgiveness.

"Sweetie," Fernanda replied, "Jairo wanted to be there. It was his thing."

CLICK-CLICK.

The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros.

I was on patrol. Following Mora's killing, the sea turtle volunteer program had been suspended, but two of Mora's young protégés, Roger Sanchez and his girlfriend, Marjorie Balfodano, still walked the beach every night with police at their side. Sanchez, 18, and Balfodano, 20, were both diminutive students, standing in bare feet with headlamps on. They weren't much to intimidate a poacher, but Sanchez was fearless. Before we set out, he told me with earnest bravado that he planned to patrol Moín for the rest of his life. When we saw the hueveros, we'd been walking for three hours alongside an escort of five officers from Limón's Fuerza Pública, kitted out with bulletproof vests, sidearms, and M4 carbines. Perhaps it was just a publicity stunt by Calderón, but it was a comforting one. We had encountered a dozen plundered nests, each one a shallow pit littered with broken shells. The hueveros, it had seemed, were just steps ahead of us.

Then the cop on my right noticed two figures and pulled his gun. Three of the police told us to wait and confronted the two men. After several minutes we approached. The cops shone their flashlights on the poachers and made them turn out their pockets. One wore a knit cap, and the other had long reddish dreadlocks—Guti. They were both slurry with drink, and the cops seemed to be making a show of frisking them. The men had no contraband, so the cops let them stumble off along the beach.

After a while the radio crackled. Another police truck had found two nesting leatherbacks. We rushed to the spot. In the darkness, a hump the size of an overturned kiddie pool slowly shifted in the sand. The baula's great watery eyes looked sidelong toward the sea as it excavated a nest in the beach with back flippers as dexterous as socked hands. With each labored effort, it delicately lifted a tiny scoop of sand and cupped it to the edge of the hole. Sanchez held a plastic bag in anticipation, ready for her to drop her clutch.

Then Guti's drunken companion stumbled up to us, knelt beside Sanchez, and offered a boozy disquisition on sea turtle biology. The cops ignored him, and the spooked animal heaved forward, dragging her bulk away without laying any eggs. A few more heaves and the foaming waves broke over the turtle's ridged carapace.

The night wasn't a complete loss, though. A short distance away, the second leatherback had laid its nest. Soon a second patrol truck pulled up and handed Sanchez a bag of 60 eggs. We hitched a ride back to the sanctuary and a wooden shed packed with styrofoam coolers. Sanchez opened one, sifted beach sand into the bottom, then began placing the eggs inside. I noticed that a pen had been stuck into one of the coolers. Next to it, a set of stylized initials was scratched into the styrofoam: JMS. Altogether, there were perhaps 1,000 eggs in the coolers. Almost all of them had been gathered by Mora.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/turtle-lays-eggs-beach_fe.jpg","caption":"Mora's protoge Roger Sanchez (left) waits for a turtle to lay eggs."}%}

A COUPLE OF DAYS later, I went to see Erick Calderón at the police headquarters in Limón. With his small build and boyish face, he seemed an unlikely enforcer, and he'd clearly been affected by the pressure the killing had brought on his department. Since the murder, Calderón said, the police had patrolled Moín every night. "I want to make the beach a safer place, control poaching of eggs, and educate the population so the demand isn't there," he said. But it was unclear how long he could sustain the effort. He said that only a dedicated ecological police force would make a lasting impact. They'd need a permanent outpost on Moín, a dozen officers supplied with 4x4s and night-vision goggles.

Then Calderón insisted that Mora's murder was an anomaly and that Costa Rica was "not a violent society"—an assertion belied by the fact that the previous afternoon, a shootout between rival gangs had happened just a few blocks from the station. He seemed ashamed that the murder had happened on his watch, that Lizano had screamed at him. "I know Jairo was a good guy," he told me.

That afternoon I met up with Lizano's father, Bernie. His means of processing his sorrow had been to turn himself into a pro bono private investigator. A former tuna fisherman, Bernie was 65, with a full head of white hair and a pronounced limp from an old boating accident. As we drove around Limón, he seemed to know everyone's racket, from the drug kingpins behind razor-wire-topped fences to a guy on a corner selling drinks from a cooler. "He keeps the turtle eggs in his truck," Bernie whispered conspiratorially. At one house he stopped to chat with a shirtless, heavily tattooed man. The guy offered his condolences, then said, "Let me know if you need any maintenance work done." As Bernie pulled away he chuckled: "Maintenance. That guy's a hit man."

We drove to a squat concrete building with dark-tinted windows on the edge of town—the office of the OIJ. After Bernie and I passed through a metal detector, one of the case's detectives, tall and athletic, with a 9mm holstered in his jeans, agreed to speak with me anonymously. He said that OIJ investigators in Limón were the busiest in the country due to drug-related crime. I asked whether he thought the killers were traffickers, and he shook his head wearily. "If they were narcos, it would have been a disaster," he said. "Every one of them would have been killed."

Like Calderón, he promised that Mora would not be a mere statistic. He insisted that they were closing in on serious leads. Walking out, Bernie told me he had spoken in private with the detective, to whom he'd been feeding every scrap of information he'd gotten. "He told me, 'We are very close to getting them, but we don't want them to know because they'll get away.' "

Bernie's PI trail led back to Moín, where he had tracked down a potential witness—a man who lived near the beach. The man had been the first to find Mora early on the morning of May 31. He walked Bernie to the spot where he'd found the body. As he described it, there were signs of a struggle from the footprints around the car. It looked to him like Mora had escaped his captors and dashed down the beach. Another set of tracks seemed to show a body being dragged back to the vehicle.

Bernie had begged the man for some clue, mentioning Paul Watson's reward, which had now swelled to $56,000. "He said, 'No, no, I don't need the money. It's not that I don't need it, it's just that they did something very bad.' " If he talked, he was sure that he and his family would be killed.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/hut-poachers-costa-rica_fe.jpg","caption":"A poachers hut near Playa Moin."}%}

ON JULY 31, the OIJ conducted a predawn raid, called Operation Baula, at several houses around Limón. Dozens of armed agents arrested six men, including Felipe Arauz, the 38-year-old Nicaraguan immigrant suspected of being the ringleader of the violent hueveros. A seventh man was caught ten days later. The suspects were Darwin and Donald Salmón Meléndez, William Delgado Loaiza, Héctor Cash Lopez, Enrique Centeno Rivas, and Bryan Quesada Cubillo. While Lizano knew of the alleged killers, she was relieved that she hadn't worked with them. "Thank God none were my poachers," she said.

Detectives from the OIJ had been talking to informants and quietly tracking Mora's stolen cell phone. According to court documents, one of the suspects, Quesada, 20, had continued to use it, sending incriminating texts. One read: "We dragged him on the beach behind Felipe's car and you know it."

{%{"quote":"The cop next to me, young and jumpy in the darkness, pulled his M4's slide back, racking a cartridge. As I crouched down, I saw two green dots floating—the glow-in-the-dark sights of a drawn 9mm. About 100 yards off, the police had spotted a couple of shadowy figures. Hueveros."}%}

To Lizano, the motive was clearly revenge, but the authorities cast the crime as "a simple robbery and assault." They also laid blame on Mora and Lizano's failed attempt to hire poachers for conservation. An OIJ spokesman claimed that the program had bred resentment among hueveros. The accusation infuriated Lizano. "They're just looking for a scapegoat," she said.

Lizano thought that the authorities were deflecting blame. It turned out that on the night of the murder, a police patrol had encountered several of the suspects—they were the same men the cops had warned Mora about. A few hours later the gang lay in wait. Whether or not they intended to kill Mora will be argued at the trial later this spring.

Even so, the arrests haven't brought much closure to those closest to Mora. Almudena, back in Madrid, was deeply depressed when I reached her. "Jairo is dead," she said. "For me there is no justice." The only positive outcome, as she saw it, would be for a preserved beach. "In ten years, there have to be turtles at Moín," she said. "If not, this has happened for nothing."

Lizano, meanwhile, redoubled her efforts to protect Moín. Any legislative change to preserve the beach is far off, and the turtles now face an additional threat—a massive container-port development project that a Dutch conglomerate hopes to build nearby. Still, Lizano told me, "I really believe it has to continue. I can't stop and let the poachers win. For me it's not an option."

In July, Lizano brought Fedé back to Moín. She woke him up one morning before sunrise, and together with a group of volunteers they walked to the beach. The night before, at the sanctuary, the first turtle hatchlings had broken up through the sand in their styrofoam-cooler nests. Lizano showed Fedé how to lift the tiny flapping things out and set them gently on the sand. The people stood back and watched as the turtles inched down the beach, making their way toward the breaking waves and an uncertain future.

Matthew Power wrote about Australia's northern territory in February 2012.

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