Evolution has endowed the big-footed snowshoe hare with a particularly nifty skill. Over a period of about 10 weeks, as autumn days shorten in the high peaks and boreal forests, the nimble nocturnal hare transforms itself. Where it was once a tawny brown to match the pine needles and twigs amid which it forages, the hare turns silvery white, just in time for the falling of winter snow. This transformation is no inconsequential feat. Lepus americanus, as it is formally known, is able to jump 10 feet and run at a speed of 27 miles per hour, propelled by powerful hind legs and a fierce instinct to live. But it nonetheless ends up, 86 per cent of the time by one study, as a meal for a lynx, red fox, coyote, or even a goshawk or great horned owl. The change of coat is a way to remain invisible, to hide in the brush or fly over the snow unseen, long enough at least to keep the species going.
Snowshoe hares are widely spread throughout the colder, higher reaches of North America – in the wilderness of western Montana, on the coniferous slopes of Alaska, and in the forbidding reaches of the Canadian Yukon. The Yukon is part of the Beringia, an ancient swathe of territory that linked Siberia and North America by a land bridge that, with the passing of the last Ice Age 11,000 years ago, gave way to the Bering Strait. All manner of mammals, plants and insects ferried east and west across that bridge, creating, over thousands of years, the rich boreal forest. But in this place, north of the 60-degree latitude, the axiom of life coloured by stinging cold, early snow and concrete ribbons of ice has been upended in the cosmic blink of an eye. The average temperature has increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the past half century, and by 4 degrees Celsius in the winter. Glaciers are rapidly receding, releasing ancient torrents of water into Kluane Lake, a 150-square-mile reflecting pool that has been called a crown jewel of the Yukon. Lightning storms, ice jams, forest fires, rain – these things are suddenly more common. Permafrost is disappearing.
Such rapid-fire changes across a broad swathe of northern latitudes are testing the adaptive abilities of the snowshoe hare, however swift and nimble it might be. Snow arrives later. Snow melts earlier. But the hare changes its coat according to a long-set schedule, which is to say that the snowshoe is sometimes snowy white when its element is still robustly brown. And that makes it an easier target for prey. In 2016, wildlife biologists who tracked the hares in a rugged wilderness in Montana gave this phenomenon a name: ‘climate change-induced camouflage mismatch’. The hares moulted as they always had. It’s just that the snow didn’t come. Survival rates dropped by 7 per cent as predation increased.
In order to outwit its newest enemy – warmer winters – snowshoe hares would need something in the order of a natural miracle, what the biologists, writing in the journal Ecology Letters, called an ‘evolutionary rescue’. Like the Yukon, this pristine corner of Montana was projected to lose yet more snow cover; there would be perhaps an additional month of bare forest floor by the middle of this century, on which snowshoe hares would stand out like bright white balloons.
philosophizing with the trail boss (Speed)
Speed, Lisa & rōbert
the trail boss, Aaron Rodriguez, rōbert & Django
A just completed four-night backpack with Denny Hogan, Ben Dobbin & Mike Friedman around Navajo Mountain with a novel start by boat (Mike Friedman’s Adventure Partners love boat) from Lake Powell.
Seldom Seen Denny
photo by Edgar Boyles
Kristine Tompkins is a former CEO of Patagonia and current president of Tompkins Conservation. Tom Butler is the author of Wildlands Philanthropy: The Great American Tradition and vice president for conservation advocacy at Tompkins Conservation.
PUERTO VARAS, Chile — “Sustainability” may be a worthy goal, but the word has become cliché, now typically deployed in its adverbial form to modify various nature-exploiting activities like “logging” and “fishing” or the catch-all “development.”
So let’s quit talking about “sustainable” this or that and face the overarching question about the future: Can we create a durable civilization in which humans become good neighbors in the community of life? Where our society is embedded in a matrix of wild nature that allows all creatures — from microorganisms to blue whales — freedom to pursue happiness and raise their progeny in a secure habitat?
The path to that flourishing future for the diversity of life is “rewilding” — helping nature heal by returning missing species and processes to parts of the planet where they’ve been eliminated or diminished by human activity. In a strange and inversely proportional ratio of planetary sickness to public concern, there seems to be less attention paid to the mountains of data that scientists are gathering on Earth’s ecological and climate unraveling. We have, however, seen the power of rewilding projects to capture public imagination and gain widespread support.
Recently, Argentine President Mauricio Macri and his family spent a weekend with the rewilding team from Tompkins Conservation, learning how biologists are reintroducing missing species to their former home in the Iberá marshlands of northern Argentina. After successfully returning giant anteaters, pampas deer, tapirs and green-winged macaws, the rewilding team is now working to breed jaguars in captivity so that their offspring may again roam freely in one of South America’s greatest natural areas.
In his first term, Macri established multiple new protected areas including Iberá National Park; its designation was prompted by the donation of privately assembled land from Tompkins Conservation. Macri has also articulated how expanded parks can help promote ecotourism-related economic vitality and help Argentina meet its commitments to address climate change: wild habitat equals natural carbon sequestered in soil and vegetation.
Similarly, on the other side of the Andes Mountains, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet is creating new marine and terrestrial protected areas. Several weeks ago, before leaving office, Bachelet stood in front of a herd of wild guanacos grazing in the Chacabuco Valley and signed a decree creating the new Patagonia National Park. This act was part of her administration’s agreement to accept a land donation of 1 million acres from Tompkins Conservation along with all of the public-use infrastructure built for two new flagship parks.
Credit Illustration by Mike McQuade; Photograph by Tom Brenner/The New York Times
Despite stiff competition, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is by common consensus the worst of the ideologues and mediocrities President Trump chose to populate his cabinet. Policies aside — and they’re terrible, from an environmental perspective — Mr. Pruitt’s self-aggrandizing and borderline thuggish behavior has disgraced his office and demoralized his employees. We opposed his nomination because he had spent his career as attorney general of Oklahoma suing the federal department he was being asked to lead on behalf of industries he was being asked to regulate. As it turns out, Mr. Pruitt is not just an industry lap dog but also an arrogant and vengeful bully and small-time grifter, bent on chiseling the taxpayer to suit his lifestyle and warm his ego.
Award–winning investigative environmental journalist Jonathan P. Thompson digs into the science, politics, and greed behind the 2015 Gold King Mine disaster, and unearths a litany of impacts wrought by a century and a half of mining, energy development, and fracking in southwestern Colorado. Amid these harsh realities, Thompson explores how a new generation is setting out to make amends.
As shocking and heartbreaking as the Gold King spill and its aftermath may be, it’s merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. The disaster itself was the climax of the long and troubled story of the Gold King mine, staked by a Swedish immigrant back in 1887. And it was only the most visible manifestation of a slow–moving, multi–faceted environmental catastrophe that had been unfolding here long before the events of August 5, 2015.
Jonathan Thompson is a native Westerner with deep roots in southwestern Colorado. He has been an environmental journalist focusing on the American West since he signed on as reporter and photographer at the Silverton Standard & the Miner newspaper in 1996. He has worked and written for High Country News for over a decade, serving as editor-in-chief from 2007 to 2010. He was a Ted Scripps fellow in environmental journalism at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and in 2016 he was awarded the Society of Environmental Journalists’ Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small Market. He currently lives in Bulgaria with his wife Wendy and daughters Lydia and Elena.
Chahuaytire, Peru — Gumercinda Quispe is a descendant of Peruvian Incas and here, high in the Andes, more than 12,500 feet above sea level, she has prepared a nourishing, spicy potato soup, quacha chuño.
She has made it with both fresh potatoes and chuño, the dried, hard white potatoes that are still prepared just a stone’s throw away. The ancient preservation process includes soaking them in an icy stream, stomping them by foot to remove the skins and drying them in the sun.
I love potatoes. They are not a staple in my native India, as they are in Peru. In India, they are a beloved, cheap treat. Cooked in thousands of different ways, almost always creatively burnished with selective spoonfuls from a treasure chest of seasonings and spices, potatoes are served in every town and village at mealtimes and as chutney-augmented street snacks. I wanted to learn more about potatoes here in the land of their birth.
In the little mountain village of Chahuaytire near the town of Pisac in southern Peru, Ms. Quispe and I sat down at a table close to the warm, sooty hearth in the rustic restaurant where she works. The sun was shining bright outside, and the sky was a clear, cold blue.
“Put some sauce in the soup and drink from the bowl,” she said, motioning to the verdant uchucuta sauce she had prepared. “Uchu” means “chiles” in the Quechua language of the Incas, and “cuta” means “ground.”