Using Our Voice, For Greater Sage-grouse

Great Sage Grouse Strut

Greater Sage-grouse Strut, Sublette County, Wyoming

By now, nearly every one if us has heard something about Greater Sage-grouse and the pending listing decision for protection under the Endangered Species Act. The listing decision is scheduled for September 30 and while we’ve been waiting to find out what the US Fish and Wildlife Service will do, some in Congress have been seeking ways to undermine the process. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado has added a rider to the Senate Appropriations Bill that would essentially stall any meaningful conservation actions on behalf of Greater Sage-grouse for six years. If that were to happen, we would lose all of the progress, the goodwill, the great collaboration that’s been steadily increasing in the buildup to a listing decision. The Endangered Species Act is under attack, that’s been going on for years. The Sage-grouse decision is bigger than anything we’ve seen before, with eleven states and 165 million acres of Sage-grouse habitat staked out as Priority Areas For Conservation (PAC). If you’ve read this blog before, or followed the Sage Spirit project, you know that grouse are imperiled because of habitat fragmentation, loss, and the collapse of an ecosystem that impacts 350 species. Failure to take serious actions on behalf of Greater Sage-grouse is an ecosystem failure. There is only one sagebrush sea. What can we do? Write a letter, a real letter to your senators and tell them that Greater Sage-grouse are in trouble and don’t belong in an appropriations bill. Let science determine the next steps. Make sure to tell your senator what the American West means to you – the personal aspect is so important. Audubon has made it easy for you with a letter that you can e-sign, but it’s even better if you use some of the language and add your personal connection. I’ve sent letters to Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet (CO) and it feels great. Thanks for writing, the Audubon letter follows: Continue reading “Using Our Voice, For Greater Sage-grouse”

North Cascades – Turf and Surf

Sahale Arm, Sahale Glacier
Sahale Cloudscape : Prints Available

After a long night of heavy rain battering our Sahale Glacier camp, a brief sun break pierces layers of clouds and ridgelines from Sahale Arm. The tarn in the foreground is catching runoff from the glacier above. Our stormy experience was an anomoly this season, a parched summer of little rain and fire.

After a wonderful evening of presenting Sage Spirit to an enthusiastic Braided RiverMountaineers audience, we set out for the North Cascades, winding up our trip on Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands off Washington’s northwest coast. More than half of the glaciers in the Lower 48 are in the North Cascades and North Cascades glaciers are retreating subjects of intense study. The Cascades aren’t as tall as the Rockies, but the vertical uplift from the Pacific Ocean is dizzying – Mount Baker rises over 10,000 feet and accumulates a deep snowpack from Pacific flows in winter (except last winter, when it barely snowed at all). And you feel all of that vertical in your legs. The trek to Sahale Glacier camp was a 4,000 foot ascent from deep Douglas fir/western cedar forest to the land of rock and ice. Unfortunately, we saw little of the Sahale area, as a pretty rough storm pinned us in our tent for 18 hours or so. Happy to see the earth quenched for the first time this parched summer, we descended and sought solitude in the Mount Baker Wilderness, then the San Juan Islands just off the coast. There’s so much here! Want to read a great book about the North Cascades? Check out The North Cascades – Finding Beauty and Renewal In The Wild Nearby by Braided River. The images that follow are but a quick glimpse, just enough to whet our appetite for a more in depth study. Continue reading “North Cascades – Turf and Surf”

Western Fire and States Rights?

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Smoky Sunrise, Summer of 2012 in North Park, Colorado

With the west at Fire Preparedness Level 5, 65 major fires currently burning on 7.5 million acres, fought by 27,000 firefighters, 3 of whom perished in the last week, it seems like a good time to talk about who’s battling these annual catastrophic summer blazes. Everyone. The Federal government coordinates, and battles western fires alongside state, tribal, and local agencies. In these drier, hotter, more drought stricken times, fire is inextricably linked to water and climate change, particularly on vulnerable western lands covered with millions of acres of invasive, highly flammable cheatgrass. The image attached here was made on a memorable August morning, the day after several large fires blew up in Idaho, but I didn’t know it at the time. The smoke was so thick, acrid, and lung-choking that I thought there must be a major fire in the nearby Zirkel Range. But, as we’re seeing right now, smoke, particulates, and all the nasty haze float on the jet stream and will visit you wherever you live in the west. The states rights folks who “want to take the country back” don’t seem to understand that their state, any state doesn’t have the resources to fight these ever expanding annual fire events that last for weeks or months before first snows clear the air – termination dust used to mean the end of the season. I’m grateful to Secretary Jewell for the hard work of our Department of Interior to battle fire at its highest, most dangerous level. States rights? They’re not up to the task.

Released!

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The Sage Spirit book has been released and is officially available from Braided River, daveshowalter.com, and at retail and online stores. When I started working with Braided River, Helen Cherullo described what we were about to do as “a process.” Helen knows because she and her staff have created ten books since she visualized Braided River as an imprint of Mountaineers Books. Braided River came about after Senator Barbara Boxer held up Sunhankar Banarshee’s book Seasons Of Life And Land on the Senate floor while making a passionate plea to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from drilling. From that moment, Helen visualized two conservation photography books per year that would serve as a foundation for an advocacy campaign, a brand for important conservation issues. I’m proud to be a Braided River photographer and author and proud of what we’ve accomplished so far. The process of creating this book has taken over a year of intensive work with the amazingly talented Braided River staff, a stretch that I now view more as an education than work. With our partners Audubon Rockies, The Wilderness Society, and Sierra Club Wyoming Chapter, we aim to build a solid campaign with media, presentations, exhibits, and whatever else it takes to change the conversation and change direction in the Sagebrush Sea of the American West. Words can’t express my heartfelt thanks to Helen and wonderful folks at Braided River for working so hard to bring this story to life. Now, as Helen has reminded me, the real work begins.

Wildflower Walk

wildflowers, Capitol Peak
Wildflower Walk : Prints Available

Our path to Silver Creek Pass leads through a verdant green alpine meadow of blooming Indian paintbrush and cinquefoil wildflowers. The pass is the patch of snow in the low point between the mountains (a 1,500′ climb), where a staggering view of (14,130′) Capitol Peak awaits.

The pass ahead is a window to a new world, one of the great gifts of exploring on foot. We ascended 1,500′ to a low point on the flank of Meadow Mountain, where Capitol Peak shone in afternoon light while clouds swirled ominously around the basin. Runoff from both sides of the pass feed the Crystal River, a tributary of the mighty Colorado. Snowfall from the spring monsoon is finally melting off, opening the mountains for a few short months of exploration, before the cycle of seasons starts anew. The brilliant green tundra and blooming wildflowers are almost an illusion, a fleeting moment of alpine rhythm.

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Spotlight on Capitol Peak (14,130′) as a storm builds in the Elk Mountains. Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area, Colorado

Appalling Ignorance

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“The best way to protect the sage grouse or the prairie chickens is to sell it to someone.” “Is there a shortage of cows in our country? No, because someone owns cows.”

Senator and presidential (R) candidate Rand Paul speaking in Elko, Nevada

Greater Sage-grouse need habitat, sagebrush habitat, large unbroken expanses of good habitat with grasses, forbs, insects; a landscape free of disturbance. They are hard-wired to the sagebrush ecosystem and simply can’t survive without sage. Captive breeding programs haven’t been very successful – and relocating has mixed results – Sage-grouse and 350 other western species still need sagebrush habitat. The only way ranchers can “raise” sage-grouse is by protecting their habitat and we have a government program for those ranchers. It’s called the Sage Grouse Initiative and it’s a very successful government program. This noble bird of the American West has been here for 25 million years and we have a plan to recover the species. Deal with it.

Peek At Longs – Independence Day

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Longs Peak (14,255′) and Mount Meeker (13,911′) catch morning light from Estes Cone, casting a long shadow on Longs’ flank. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado.

Alarm and coffee pot spring to life at 1:30 a.m., an uncivil time of day by any measure. Grumbling and light-headedness aside, backpacks are tossed in the car for a drive amongst folks just trying to get home. It’s exhilarating to reach the trailhead a few hours before dawn, before birds wake, and set out to follow a cone of light through a black forest. Our destination is Estes Cone, an 11,002′ bump on the Estes Park skyline with a commanding view of Longs and Meeker. A nearly full moon barely penetrated the dense forest as we trekked on good trail that split from Longs’ standard climbing route. The finishing ascent rose 1,000 feet to lichen-covered stone just above the forest canopy, revealing Longs’ eastern face. Rising above a low cloud bank, the sun graced Longs and Meeker in warm light, showing features of the main climbing route, The Trough still clogged with deep snow, guarding the highest peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. First climbed by John Wesley Powell’s group in an 1868 expedition, Longs is a sentinel in stone that can be viewed from many angles and worthy of a photographic study – and an alpine start or two.

Summer Transition at 13,000′

Quandary Peak, Lenawee Mountain
Loveland Pass Sunset : Prints Available

As the setting sun dipped below a drifting storm cloud, the high tundra and 13,000 foot giants of the Front Range and Tenmile Range are painted in cinammon light. Lenawee Mountain (13,205′) is on the left top of the frame and distant Quandary Peak (14,265′), in the Tenmile Range, is on the upper right side. This image was made from Point 12,915′ above Loveland Pass and there are two climber’s tents perched on the ridge, just before it falls off. 

Just a week after the last post, we spent an evening at 13,000 feet on the high ridge that towers over Loveland past on the east side. We trekked to Mount Sniktau (13,234′) for the first time and hoped for golden light to break beneath a thick cloud bank, lingering after a passing storm. With temps hovering in the 50s, the sun dipped and the landscape took on a new glow, with forms and layers of mountains in all directions. A small group of climbers set up tents on the edge of the ridgeline, later telling us of their plan to climb Grizzly Peak and two fourteener’s – Torreys and Grays the next day. Camping close to 13k is often a very bad idea, but not on this evening. I liked this image best for the snowfield clinging to the ridgeline, and together with our trail, leading the eye to an unending vista of the Rocky Mountains at sunset. It seems winter will depart at last.

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