Patagonia’s environmental internship program is sending about 20 employees into the field this year to volunteer with nonprofit environmental groups around the world. The company pays employee salaries and benefits for up to a month while they work in D.C., Kenya, Kauai and other locales. Jim Little, an editor in our marketing department, recently spent eight days in the great outdoors with members of the Nevada Wilderness Project (NWP). Here’s his account.
Adrift in the Sagebrush Sea
Loaded to the gunwales with tents and sleeping bags, ice chests stuffed with food and hoppy beverage, in early October we drove north from Reno in a rented Tahoe to spend a week adrift in the Sagebrush Sea. I was tagging along to experience and write about a 4-million acre landscape the Nevada Wilderness Project, Oregon Natural Desert Association and other groups want to connect and protect as a Sage Grouse Conservation Area for the benefit of the threatened game bird and some 30 other sage brush-dependent wildlife.
As you might imagine, rigorous field study entails great sacrifice: hiking soaring escarpments, witnessing herds of swift-hoofed pronghorn, soaking in soothing thermal pools and taking to the air in a private plane arranged by LightHawk for a two-hour over-flight. It also meant hanging out with bright, well-informed (and highly entertaining) people determined to preserve a massive landscape for the benefit of all.
Sage grouse – the bird best known for its thunderous wing flapping, comical mating ritual and sage-infused meat – was once so prolific in these parts that when it took wing flocks darkened the sky. Today, its habitat in decline, sage grouse populations in some areas of the Great Basin are leaning toward extinction. The conservation area would restrict cattle grazing, oil and gas development, poorly conceived renewable energy projects (yes, there are some) and off-road vehicle use that jeopardize sage grouse and the other wild animals. Without a protected conservation area, the bird will most certainly end up on the Endangered Species list, which would put a stop to all activities that threaten it, though by more draconian means.