The Bay was blanketed in fog on the morning of November 7, 2007 as the container ship M/V Cosco Busan steamed out of the Port of Oakland, toward the Golden Gate. Due to a chain of blunders by its crew, marine agencies, and a pilot who a court later determined had overdosed on prescription medication, the vessel’s hull scraped against a fender at the base of Bay Bridge support tower, tearing a 200-foot gash into its hull. More than 53,000 gallons of thick bunker fuel from two of the ship’s fuel tanks gushed into the Bay. It was the worst oil spill to occur here since 1984.
Along the coast the slick extended north nearly to Limantour Spit in the Point Reyes National Seashore, and south to Pillar Point Harbor. Inside the Bay oil extended from the San Rafael Bridge to Oakland Inner Harbor Channel, oiling the shorelines at San Quentin, Tiburon, Richardson Bay and Angel Island. An estimated 6,849 seabirds and waterfowl died as a result of the spill, according to a report prepared for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Office of Spill Prevention and Response, and the oil reduced up to one-third of that year’s herring spawn.
In 2011 the ship’s owners and operators reached a settlement with federal, local and state officials to provide $44 million to attempt to repair the damage. In 2012 state and federal spill trustee agencies—the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Lands Commission, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and Bureau of Land Management—released finalized plans for the money aimed at improving roosting and nesting habitats, restoring eelgrass and oyster beds, trail-building, and other recreation infrastructure work.
Teens are breaking trail in the backcountry well before they can drink, vote, or even drive. Avalanche educators are hustling to get to them early.
In 2013, 15-year-old Dawson Toth was perched on a ridge watching his best friend, Evan, ski down the north slope of Hero’s Knob, a popular backcountry area in Kananaskis County, Alberta, when he saw the avalanche. “It started at my ski tips,” he recalls. “Then I watched the slide spread across the whole slope.
The wall of snow engulfed Evan, then both teens’ fathers, who were waiting farther downhill. Once the slide petered out, Dawson jumped off the crown onto the now bare shale below, switched his beacon to search mode, and made his way toward the buried victims. “There wasn’t much going on in my head except that I needed to find my friends and family fast.”
Luckily, three years earlier Dawson had received training from a guide certified by Avalanche Canada for just this sort of scenario. Within a minute he’d dug out Evan’s dad, whose hand was protruding from the softly packed snow near the top of the slide. Thirty feet down, he saw his own father buried to the waist. But where was Evan? Dawson worked downslope in a grid pattern, and soon his beacon homed in on another signal. When his snow probe struck something roughly five feet below, he and a few helpers who’d come upon the scene began digging frantically. Evan was unresponsive when Dawson pulled him from the debris. But as soon as Dawson cleared the snow from Evan’s mouth, his friend coughed and inhaled rapidly.
One day in mid-March, Canyon Mansfield took his three-year-old yellow lab, Casey, on a walk into open scrubland behind his house in Pocatello, Idaho. It was the boy’s happy place. About 400 yards from his house, Mansfield bent down to inspect what looked like a sprinkler head sticking out of the dirt. When he touched the goop smeared on top of it, a stream of powder shot out. Some of it landed on Mansfield’s face and jacket, but a brisk wind sent most of the powder toward his dog.
The dog’s eyes quickly glassed over, he struggled to breathe as his mouth filled with red foam, and he started having what the boy describes as a seizure. In a manner of minutes, Casey stopped breathing. A short time later, when Mansfield’s father, a physician, arrived and wanted to try to resuscitate the dog, the boy yelled, “No, I think it’s poison.”
He was right. Casey died from chemical asphyxiation after inhaling sodium cyanide powder from the device, a baited trap called an M-44 that kills thousands of coyotes and red foxes each year in an effort to prevent livestock predation.
Opening my washing machine at the end of a cycle is not something that generally fills me with excitement. But today it did, because doing so – I thought – would finally allow me to see and touch something I’ve been reporting on for years: synthetic microfiber pollution from apparel.
Instead, it illuminated something I already knew: my dog sheds a lot.
Multiple studies have shown synthetic fibers to make up the lion’s share of microplastics found in oceans, rivers and lakes, and clothes made from synthetics (polyester, nylon, and so on) are widely implicated as the source of that pollution. Microfibers, as the name implies, are tiny, so they can easily move through sewage treatment plants. Unlike natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, synthetic fibers do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain. Researchers have found high numbers of fibers inside fish and shellfish sold at markets.
But I had recently received the Guppy Friend, a fiber-catching laundry bag made of a very fine nylon mesh developed by Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, surfing buddies and co-owners of Langbrett, a German retailer that sells outdoor apparel. The bag is designed to reduce the amount of fiber shed by garments in the wash and catch those that are shed. So, I was excited because this bag is supposed to make this invisible pollution visible.
I was relieved that my 15-year-old fleece jacket and month-old nylon leggings did not fill the bag with a mass of lint. But when I also discovered that only a teeny bit of fiber (and a lot of dog hair, each strand likely bigger than the microfibers found in waterways) in the bag after washing a bright blue Snuggie (hey, it was a gift), I became dubious about how effectively this device captures fibers.
America’s national parks need a staggering $11.5bn worth of overdue road and infrastructure repairs. But with the proposed National Park Service budget slashed by almost $400m, the Trump administration says it will turn to privatizing public park services to address those deferred maintenance costs.
“I don’t want to be in the business of running campgrounds,” Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said at a meeting of the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association in Washington this month. This came after Donald Trump proposed cutting the Department of the Interior budget by 13%.
But some public lands advocates are concerned that privatization would drive up costs for visitors and put the egalitarian nature of visiting a park out of reach for some.
The park service did consider privatizing more services during the 1980s and 1990s, says John Garder, director of budget and appropriations of the National Parks Conservation Association. He says what the agency discovered is that, “for most part, you can’t privatize services significantly without having to raise the cost of visitation”.
If you’ve visited a national park, especially a busy one, such as Yosemite or Grand Canyon, there is a good chance you’ve patronized a private operator. Concessionaires operate a range of services including lodging, restaurants and transportation – ferries to Alcatraz and Liberty islands, for example. All told, the NPS has issued private concession contracts at 100 places within the park system.
This shedding puts outdoor manufacturers in a bind: many want to protect the outdoors, but they also want to sell product. Consumers who love their warm fleece are also faced with a dilemma.
Some brands have taken steps to address the threat of microfibers, which are considered a type of microplastic pollution. In 2015, Patagonia asked university researchers to quantify how much fiber its products shed during laundry—the answer was a lot. And the Outdoor Industry Association has convened a working group to start examining microfiber pollution. But here’s the thing: rather than using money to develop a process that prevents the shedding, most brands are still focused on defining their culpability. Because there are other sources of microfiber pollution in the sea, such as fraying fishing ropes, these brands want to be able to know for certain how much they’re contributing before they move further.
That won’t be an easy task, but Mountain Equipment Co-op, an REI-like retailer headquartered in Vancouver, recently gave microplastics researchers at the Vancouver Aquarium a $37,545 grant to help scientists develop a tracking process. The yearlong project will be led by the aquarium’s ocean pollution research program director and senior scientist Peter Ross. The first step is to create a database of fibers from up to 50 different textiles commonly used in MEC’s house-brand apparel.
For the past three years, Alexander Nolte and Oliver Spies, surfing buddies and co-owners of Langbrett, a German retailer with four stores that sells surf gear and outdoor apparel, have been haunted by news reports connecting many of the products they sell to an emerging but serious environmental threat: microfiber pollution. Synthetic textiles, such as fleece jackets, send tiny plastic fibers into wastewater after washing. These bits eventually make their way into rivers, lakes and our oceans, where they pose health threats to plants and animals. The two men knew they had to act.
“We said, ‘either we have to stop selling fleece [apparel] or we have to think of a solution’,” explains Nolte. “So we went out to our beer garden and said ‘what can we do?’”
The beer-filled brainstorming session eventually led to Guppy Friend, a mesh laundry bag, that goes into the washing machine. The bag captures shedding fibers as clothes are tossed and spun, preventing the fibers from escaping. It’s roomy enough for a couple of fleece jackets or other apparel made of synthetic fabric. In two weeks, Langbrett, in partnership with outdoor clothing company Patagonia, will start shipping the Guppy Friend to the backers of their Kickstarter campaign. Patagonia will then begin selling the bag to customers.
The Guppy Friend is the first device designed and marketed specifically to prevent microfiber pollution. Microfibers are tiny, so they can easily move through sewage treatment plants. Natural fibers, such as cotton or wool, biodegrade over time. But synthetic fibers are problematic because they do not biodegrade, and tend to bind with molecules of harmful chemical pollutants found in wastewater, such as pesticides or flame retardants. Plus, fibers from apparel are often coated with chemicals to achieve performance attributes such as water resistance. Studies have shown health problems among plankton and other small organisms that eat microfibers, which then make their way up the food chain. Researchers have found high numbers of fibers inside fish and shellfish sold at markets.
Utah, a state rich in epic landscapes and national parks, is becoming ground zero for a fight between the $646bn outdoor industry and state lawmakers over public land management.
At a trade show for outdoor clothing and gear makers in Salt Lake City this week, two prominent figures from the industry called on their peers to move the semi-annual event out of the state unless Utah leaders stop supporting efforts by Republicans in Congress to transfer or sell federal land to states. Utah governor Gary Herbert was also called out for challenging a federal law that allowed President Obama to create the new, 1.4m-acre Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah last month.
“Utah’s political leadership has unleashed an all-out assault against Utah’s protected public lands and Utah’s newest monument,” wrote Peter Metcalf, a long time Utah resident who founded climbing and ski gear maker Black Diamond, in an opinion piece published in the Salt Lake Tribune on Tuesday to coincide with the start of the trade show. He noted that the trade show brings more than $40m to the city in direct spending each year, while the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) estimates the figure can reach $80m annually.
The next day, Yvon Chouinard, founder of clothier Patagonia, said in an open letter to Herbert that…
Partnering with local agencies, The Trust for Public Land devised a plan that would return the land to the Kashia while allowing for an addition to the California Coast Trail.
Land+People (The Trust for Public Land’s magazine: Go to Page 30)
“Close your eyes,” instructs Reno Franklin. Chairman of the Kashia band of Pomo Indians, Franklin wears a long black Mohawk pulled into a loose ponytail to reveal a closely shaven skull. He’s addressing a crowd gathered to celebrate the creation of the new Kashia Coastal Reserve.
“Close your eyes,” he repeats. “Close your eyes…” As the audience complies, a smile plays across his face.
“Think back 200 years, when thousands—not hundreds, but thousands—of Kashia people walked on this land. Literally right where you’re standing. That is where we are.
Two hundred years ago, the Russians came. The ‘Undersea People.’ Why did we call them that? Look.” He gestures to the sweeping Pacific, stretching to the horizon behind him. “That view had stayed the same for thousands of years. Until a mast appeared, and then a boat. The Undersea People. From that day forward, everything changed for us.”
Growing up in Oakland, California, Rue Mapp learned to love the outdoors. She was an avid Girl Scout, and she spent her summers roaming the family ranch in nearby Lake County. As an adult, Mapp enthusiastically went on camping, hiking, and backpacking trips, but lamented that she was invariably the sole African American in the group. So in 2009 she founded Outdoor Afro, an organization dedicated to connecting African Americans to nature.
Today, Outdoor Afro has 18,000 members in 28 states and more than 60 leaders who organize trips ranging from group bike rides to multiday treks. Last October, six members “blackpacked” the 40-mile Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail in a tribute to Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad.
Mapp, 45, has met heads of state and traveled the world spreading her message: It’s time to bust the myth that black people don’t like to camp or rough it in the wilderness.
In her own quest to unpack this myth, she has had to confront some ugly truths.
“When I was young, I asked my dad—who grew up in East Texas—if he had ever known someone who had been lynched, and he said, ‘Yes, lots of people.’ So we’ve had generations of terror in the woods in our collective imagination. Until I asked my dad that question, I didn’t realize the discomfort that the outdoors can have for us.”