Cutthroat Lost and Found

As climate change and human activity fragment habitats, accelerate interbreeding, and throttle species to the brink of extinction, what are we trying to conserve? Do we know enough to tinker with evolution? This second feature in our War & Peace issue examines the conflict surrounding these issues (as well as paths to resolution) through the story of the greenback cutthroat trout, a survivor against all odds.

JD3_5426 (1)In northern Colorado’s Poudre Canyon, 30 or so men and women gathered around a fishless lake on a Friday morning in early August. A pickup truck carrying a large white tank rumbled up an old logging road lined with spruce and fir, and emerged in a clearing several yards from the lake’s edge. A state hatchery official climbed into the truck bed, opened the tank’s lids, and began scooping its contents — some 1,200 young greenback cutthroat trout — into five-gallon buckets.

A dozen people stood by, watching and whispering, while a group of researchers photographed, weighed, measured, and snipped tiny tissue samples from about 200 trouts’ fins for monitoring and genetic analysis. Around noon, scientists, wildlife managers, and conservationists among the crowd began hauling fish-filled buckets from the truck, down the muddy shore to the lake. The fish, all bred in hatcheries and none longer than six inches from snout to tail, wriggled their spotted bodies and flashed the trademark slash across their throats as they acclimated to their new home, Zimmerman Lake.

It was a historic moment. “You get a little feeling in the back of your neck, that this is the start of getting these fish back where they belong,” said Aaron Kindle, the Colorado field coordinator for Trout Unlimited’s Sportsmen’s Conservation Project, who pitched in on Friday. Continue reading

The Nature Conservancy’s Battle Plan: Mapping the Future

WOPA080929_D004If you’ve ever turned on the “bike routes” or “traffic” layers on a Google Map to help you figure out the best way to get somewhere, you’ve used geospatial information for planning. And if you’ve ever looked at that map and wondered why that bottleneck near the on-ramp can’t be fixed, or daydreamed about that one, missing, two-block-long bike lane that would make all the difference for your commute, you’re not far from understanding how The Nature Conservancy’s (TNC) approach works.

Continue reading

Editor’s Note: The War & Peace Issue

Humans have been warring over resources since we’ve had resources to war over – which is to say, forever. For as much as conflicts are cast as political or religious affairs, issues of natural resources – land, water, food, and energy – are often found at their roots. Take Syria. A five-year drought forced rural Syrians to leave their farms and seek work in the cities, laying the groundwork for tensions that escalated into its brutal civil war.

This month, we are reporting on the twin themes of war and peace. Continue reading

Rise of the Zero-Waste Zealots

Concluding our July issue is a look at the zero-waste subculture and how individual environmental action does (or does not) impact society at large. Special thanks to photographer Gregg Segal for allowing us to use his images from the series “7 Days of Garbage” to illustrate the story.

Growing up Mormon in Maryland, Beth Terry grew used to “constantly having to defend a position that might be unpopular,” she explained on a recent Friday afternoon while unpacking a week’s worth of greens, fruits, and spices purchased from a market near her home in Oakland, Calif. – a common ritual that takes unusual form in Terry’s kitchen. Instead of plastic produce bags and heavy zip-locked freezer bags, Terry uses stainless steel and glass containers.

Terry washed green beans and placed them in a stainless steel box. She shoved the box into the freezer, then arranged apples and plums in a separate bin. She poured blueberries from her cloth produce bag into a glass jar, which she tucked into the fridge. This week’s haul included a rare investment for Terry: a four-pound wheel of wax-encased carmody cheese. Sure, it might seem excessive for a family of two. But to Terry, who aims to eliminate all material waste from her lifestyle, the plastic shrink-wrap that houses smaller portions makes them off-limits. Continue reading

How Hackers & Makers Could Help Fight Climate Change

3D printed objects on display in the Autodesk Gallery in San Francisco.

In the East Market neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky, a handful of chic bars and boutiques are filling into the historic brick buildings on Broadway St, hinting at the neighborhood’s future. A few blocks away, inside a 6,000-square-foot warehouse, a half-dozen men and women were hunched over sewing machines in the warehouse, stitching seams and swapping advice. The room was crowded with project tables, couches, and the remains of various arts, crafts, and electronics projects. One participant triumphantly waved a finished garment in the air as I entered: “I made a shirt!” he exclaimed to the others.

Welcome to LVL1. It’s a makerspace, and places like it — also called hackerspaces, FabLabs, hacklabs, community workshops, and dozens of other local variants — have popped up in cities from Berlin and Boston to Baghdad, Beirut, and Beijing. No matter what they’re called, they’re open workshops where sharing—of expertise, tools, and space—is highly encouraged. Today, there are more than 1,400 such spaces around the world, and they’re spreading fast. Continue reading

Summer Salon at The Exploratorium, July 31! Be There.

We’re thrilled to announce that our second quarterly reader salon will take place at The Exploratorium! This San Francisco institution is ground zero for all things science, art and human perception. Its mission is to “ignite curiosity, encourage exploration, and lead to profound learning.” Hey, that’s our mission, too.

In our stories this month, we’re looking at environment issues through the lens of competition, games, and play. At the salon, we’ll dive into a new approach to river restoration that focuses on both preserving aquatic ecology and riding the rapids. We’ll also ponder the power of hard-core environmentalists to change the course of consumerism. Plus, we’ve got some surprises — including a chance to win a kayak trip! Extra bonus: alcohol! Continue reading

Child’s Play

A woman peers through goggles embedded in a large black helmet. Forest sounds emanate from various corners of the room: a bird chirping here, a breeze whispering there. She moves slowly around the room. On the wall, a flat digital forest is projected so observers can get a rough idea of her surroundings, but in her mind’s eye, this undergrad is no longer pacing a small, cramped room in a university lab. Thanks to that black helmet, she’s walking through the woods.

In a minute, she’s handed a joystick that looks and vibrates like a chainsaw, and she’s asked to cut down a tree. As she completes the task, she feels the same sort of resistance she might feel if she were cutting down a real tree. When she leaves this forest, and re-enters the “real” world, her paper consumption will drop by 20 percent and she will show a measurable preference for recycled paper products. Those effects will continue into the next few weeks and researchers hypothesize it will be a fairly permanent shift. By comparison, students who watch a video about deforestation or read an article on the subject will show heightened awareness of paper waste through that day — but they will return to their baseline behavior by the end of the week. Continue reading

A New Playbook for Urban Rivers

As climate change makes traditional water resources less reliable, a growing number of communities are seeking to restore urban rivers after centuries of pollution and abuse. The first story in our Play series examines how riverside towns are recalibrating the balance of human and wildlife needs in their waterways. Increasingly, they’re using technology to build recreation into restored rivers — because when local residents use their river, they tend to care about its health.

Dam spillway in Bend

More than 150 years ago, the Deschutes River in central Oregon teemed with trout and provided a pristine aquatic highway for humans. Then the Deschutes began to decline. Dams built to divert water for farming and growing towns sapped its energy and changed its looks. When a long-defunct dam in Bend began to cause injuries and even deaths to boaters, the local residents took on an ambitious, $7.3 million effort to create a safe passage for humans and fish.

Urban river restoration has become increasingly popular during the last two decades, said Pierre Julien, a professor of hydraulic engineering and stream restoration at Colorado State University. Instead of taming rivers for flood control and industrial uses — two tactics that have led to serious habitat destruction and water pollution — the emphasis these days is more about healthy living, environmental protection, and waterfront redevelopment.

Reviving these waterways, whether by removing old dams, cultivating wetlands, or engineering rapids, requires careful navigation of what it means to co-exist in harmony with wildlife in places that will never return to their “natural” state. Planners must balance the need for public support — which recreational rapids can help win — with an evolving understanding of long-term environmental impacts.

Click here to read more about how local communities blend economic interest with fish protection in engineering their local rivers to serve both humans and wildlife.

Editor’s Note: The Play Issue

Necessity may be the mother of invention, but a sense of play often provides a creative spark. And there’s nothing like a high-stakes game to inspire dogged determination and heroic performance (just ask Tim Howard), which may be just the spirit we need to tackle climate change. For our July issue, the Climate Confidential team will explore environmental challenges and promising solutions through the lens of competition, games, and play.


United States goalkeeper Tim Howard won the admiration of many Americans this week with his record-setting 16 saves in a World Cup match. He blocked and and dove and punched and blocked again. Soccer, football, whatever you want to call it, it’s just a game, sure. But there was something inspiring about the doggedness of Howard’s performance against the Red Devils of Belgium.

If this is play, imagine what such determination to do the impossible can accomplish off the field. It’s the spirit we just might need to beat climate change and reverse the trends of human industry and behavior that are driving it. Continue reading