While many of the world’s glaciers are shrinking, some grow. It’s said a warmer ocean is producing more moisture and thus more snowfall in some areas, thus the reach of some mountain icefields is expanding (since glaciers grow due to accumulated snow that’s a function of amount versus the summer melt rate). Case in point is Mount Shasta, California, where glaciers have grown considerably, with some more than doubling in length since 1950. As I’ve mentioned here before, warmer air holds more moisture. Basic science. So will global warming bring moister air and more snow to various other areas? We indeed might be experiencing that here in Colorado, though a few good winters don’t necessarily mean much in terms of a climate shift. So we shall see…
If warmer air brings nice heavy winters, then the need for avalanche safety won’t be obviated by global warming any time soon (though heavy winters in Colorado tend to have fewer avalanche deaths, because our lighter winters have such unstable snow). To that end, here in Colorado our annual “fun” raiser for our state-wide avalanche forecasting center is now on schedule. Be there for the Avalanche Jam on September 5, from 5 to 10 p.m. outside Neptune Mountaineering in Boulder.
How about our friends down south of the Equator? They were dancing with some warm winds in New Zealand that melted resort runs and caused some closures, but a big arctic storm rolled in and changed the picture. Talk about shifting weather, that kind of stuff makes you wonder if there is such a thing as atmospheric Prozac.
You’ve heard about lynx concerns dictating major land use decisions, now bring on wolverine. Environmental lawyers of Earthjustice is are intending to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on behalf of 10 conservation groups. The lawsuit will contend that the population of about 50 wolverines in the U.S. is close to extirpation, and needs more protection under the Endangered Species Act. Of course, if the Act is triggered that’ll mean ever more public land use decisions will be based on providing habitat for nearly non-existent animals (that’s what happened in Colorado with lynx.)
As pundits have predicted, this new wolverine lawsuit indicates that groups such as Earthjustice will continue to file (and probably win) lawsuits that cause far reaching changes in land management policy, based on animals that may not even exist in many areas.
What does this mean to backcountry skiers? According to Louise Lasley, public lands director for the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, “just the presence of even ski tracks can alarm a denning [wolverine] female and cause her to abandon her denning site.” (We don’t know if Lasley is qualified to know this as a fact, but it shows the sort of thinking that surrounds these issues — thinking like this is already impacting our public land rights.)
Wolverines are not warm and cuddly creatures that shy at the slightest sight of person or animal. They’re actually one of the most agro creatures out there because they’re smallish scavengers (between 20 and 60 pounds) who have to steal or defend food from larger animals. And when they get hungry all bets are off — they’ve been known to kill a moose. There were wolverines around here in Colorado back in the 1960s, one of my friends dogs got attacked by one back in the day. He was able to fend it off by using a log as a club, not not before his dogs were severely injured.
Ever heard the term “weasel teeth,” as in “weasels ripped my flesh?” As with other “mustelid” (weasel) mammals, wolverines possess a special upper molar in the back of the mouth that is rotated sideways, towards the inside of the mouth. Purpose of the scary tooth: To tear off meat from frozen prey or carrion and also to crush bones for marrow extraction. Wolverine are doing fine in Canada, and perhaps don’t need more land. But if they do want to frolic up at our favorite backcountry skiing area, something tells me they really won’t mind our ski tracks. We might even need Kevlar leggings.
Mountain rescue is in the news. Near Aspen, lightning struck a group of hikers (all survived). People nearby helped out with CPR that revived one victim. Everyone eventually walked out with the help of local rescue volunteers and Forest Service workers. Every time something like this happens I’m reminded of how we alpinists count on our fellow mountaineers and our mountain rescue groups to help out when things get beyond our own ability to cope.
To that end, here is a personal BIG THANKS for all the work our local SAR groups do (Mountain Rescue Aspen & Garfield County Rescue). Sometimes we joke about what fanatics some of you guys are, but the jokes stop when you show up and fanatically get the job done — especially when your work involves someone close to us.