Lessons Learned From Mexico City’s Ban On Single-Use Plastic Bags

MEXICO CITY — In the global environmentalist battle, Mexico City started fighting single-use plastic bags this year. But the impact and results from the ban still are debated by citizens, business people and nature preservationists.

Starting this year, Mexico City implemented a change in their waste management law, and now single-use plastic bags are banned. How this environmentalist move is affecting one of the largest cities in the world — and what can we learn from it?

Bagless Stores

Jessica López works in a Mexico City convenience store, one out of thousands of stores that are not allowed to use one-time plastic bags for customer purchases since January.

The Mexico City Congress approved last year a reform to the waste management law.

Starting this year, bans the use of carrier plastic bags in stores, except those used for fresh food to prevent health problems. Next year, the ban is expected to extend to other single-use products.

López says most customers have adapted to the measure but some still complain, like those who even wanted a bag for just a pack of cigarettes.

Jessica López works in a convenience store in Mexico City. (Photo by Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ)

“Selling bags is not a good alternative for us: it’s not profitable and not good for the environment,” López said.

And despite some customers buy less after forgetting to bring a bag, the majority carry reusable bags or even cones made out of newspaper.

“The ban might be helpful, but there’s many other polluting materials that should be banned or at least regulated to make a real difference,” the storekeeper said.

‘Molding’ The Industry

José del Cueto is president of the plastic bag division of the Mexican Association of Plastics. And, in a way, he agrees with López.

“This prohibition to specific products is not going to help. So, we need to try to improve the way we handle trash,” Del Cueto said, explaining that the reform is insufficient without a modification to the waste management processes and regulations.

Del Cueto says the industry already lost $81 million in the first two months of the year.

The executive said 95% of plastic bags in Mexico are made locally. There are more than 4,300 plastic bag companies in Mexico, generating 300,000 jobs.

José del Cueto is president of the plastic bag division of the Mexican Association of Plastics. (Photo by Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ)

But Del Cueto says factories are closing, firing people or struggling for resources to produce the newly required environmentally friendly bags.

“Plastic bags need to be made with compostable materials. Not reusable, not recyclable. Basically compostable. And that means we need to import, so we need to bring from China or Asia or Europe,” Del Cueto said.

The businessman said the industry is committed to reducing pollution, but it needs the government’s help and commitment. He says some substitute materials used for supermarket bags, like cotton or paper, may be worse than plastics.

More Than A Ban

“I think the industry has created a false dilemma,” said Ornela Garelli, ocean’s campaigner and one of the leaders in the campaigns to reduce plastic consumption for the environmentalist nonprofit Greenpeace Mexico.

And for her, it is possible to protect the economy and the environment simultaneously through innovation and changing the culture.

“The point here is to reuse the bag. It’s time to do something, and way to start is to supporting these kind of bans, Garelli said.”

Garelli said that although plastic bags represent less than 1% of the trash, their importance goes beyond.

“It’s not just the ban for itself, it is a change in our culture. We want the people to start seeing that our actions have an impact on the environment,” she explained.

Ornela Garelli is Greenpeace Mexico’s ocean’s campaigner. (Photo by Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ)

Garelli says everything we produce has an environmental impact, from paper to plastic or cotton bags. And the point of these kinds of bans is not to eradicate plastics — some of which are beneficial — but to limit single-use materials as much as possible.

“We consider that recycling is good, but it’s not the solution, because in the reality, we can see that we don’t have enough technical capacity,” the environmentalist said.

Garelli says only 9% of the plastic produced globally gets recycled. This drops to 6% in Mexico and the U.S.

Dealing With The Bags

On a Mexico City street, Arnulfo Acevedo and his co-workers pick up the trash, transporting 16 tons of it everyday.

“Some people complain about the ban because the alternative now is finding other containers for trash,” Acevedo said.

Arnulfo Acevedo (red shirt) has been collecting garbage in Mexico City for 44 years. (Photo by Rodrigo Cervantes/KJZZ)

He’s been collecting garbage for 44 years and says changes in waste management can be hard for many, but it’s necessary for the environment.

“Everything is possible here in Mexico. But to make things happen, people need to cooperate,” Acevedo said.

Verde River watershed gets a grade of C+, but that ‘actually is very good’

CAMP VERDE — The Verde River stretches more than 170 miles from north-central Arizona and down through metro Phoenix, bringing life to the landscape, people and wildlife. This month, the river was rated a C+ in the first Verde Watershed Report Card.

The report, released Feb. 18, took into account the quality of the habitat, the community and the water in and along the river.

“What we see in the Watershed Report Card is kind of the impacts of drought and climate change, but also of that increasing human population,” said Kimberly Schonek, the Verde River project manager for The Nature Conservancy.

The Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River produced the report card in conjunction with stakeholders, the U.S. Forest Service and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

The Verde River, which flows more than 170 miles, starts in north-central Arizona and winds down into the Phoenix Valley. The Verde River Watershed Report Card, released earlier this month, addresses habitat, community and water conditions. (Photo by Michael Hannan/Cronkite News)

Nancy Steele, the executive director of Friends of the River Verde, said a C+ grade does not mean the Verde is close to failing.

“Now a lot of people are saying, well, C’s not a great grade, but it actually is very good,” Steele said. “There’s a lot of river systems around the world that are doing much, much worse. We’ve got a healthy river system here.”

Keeping the river healthy is a priority for rancher Jeni O’Callaghan, whose ranch includes a stretch of the Verde.

“We feed our beef, and they’re mostly grass-fed. And so we need grass, and grass doesn’t grow without water,” O’Callaghan said. “We have been irrigating our fields for some time. Currently, we’re in a project with Nature Conservancy to put in irrigation sprinklers as opposed to a flood irrigation.”

The Nature Conservancy is seeking to ensure that others follow O’Callaghan’s example of diverting water responsibly. Schonek said this is especially important because of the decline of the base flow in the Verde River over the past 20 years. The base flow, or the amount of water in the river before rainfall, was a key finding in the report.

Kimberly Schonek, the Verde River project manager for The Nature Conservancy, has worked for over 11 years to improve the quality of the watershed. (Photo by Michael Hannan/Cronkite News)

“That’s probably the most concerning score; we got a D on that,” Schonek said. “We really need to think about that, because that’s being impacted by drought. The amount of water going into the aquifer, and then by the amount of water being taken out by things like groundwater pumping, and surface water diversions.”

Protecting the river for the public is of high interest to the Forest Service, which provided funding for the report card.

“Keeping the the watersheds healthy through the scorecard, increasing awareness of the public, of the health of those watersheds, ultimately furthers both what the (Phoenix) Valley needs in terms of its water supply, as well as what the Forest Service is aiming for, which is to protect the water supply for our public,” said Kelly Mott Lacroix, a Tonto National Forest hydrologist and watershed program manager.

The Forest Service provided funding to mark the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2018. Sections of the Verde River are protected under the act, making it one of only two Arizona rivers to have that distinction.

“We’re thinking about what that wild and scenic river needs,” Schonek said. “It needs good water quality. It needs to continue to flow. We need fish. We need the uplands in our watershed to be healthy.”

The Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Verde River are working to ensure those needs will continue to be met in the future.

The Verde River Watershed received a C+ grade overall. However, Friends of the Verde River Executive Director Nancy Steele says this is not a negative finding, and the river is doing quite well. (Photo by Michael Hannan/Cronkite News)

“We have spent so much time over the last 10 years creating priorities around preserving this habitat, around removing invasive non-native species,” Steele said.

Steele said they are now working to plant cottonwood trees, a species native to the area, near the river to increase healthy places for wildlife to live. She believes the life this river brings is not limited to the ecosystem.

“I’ve always felt that connection, especially to our desert rivers, that there’s something magical about a desert river,” she said. “And the Verde is that way, too. I come upon it, and it’s magic. You just feel, you know, you’re in a place that’s a ribbon of life.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Chemical Retardant Used to Fight Wildfires Could Pose Harm, Group Says

PHOENIX – Fire retardant is one tool in battling wildfires, including the Woodbury Fire east of Mesa. But is the mixture of water and chemicals, including thickening agents, a danger to people and the environment?

Dolores Garcia, a spokeswoman with the Bureau of Land Management office in Phoenix, said retardant is crucial in areas where it’s difficult to deploy firefighters quickly.

“We utilize it to help slow the progress, especially in areas that may be threatened, such as our wildland-urban interface,” Garcia said.

-Video Report by Amanda Slee/Cronkite News

Wildland-urban interfaces are transitional areas where homes are built near land prone to fires. Being on the edge of the wildlands, these areas require quick responses to maintain safety.

The retardant is dyed red to make the line visible when dropped from tanker planes. Garcia said there are plenty of factors to consider when dropping the retardant, such as proximity to rivers and streams.

The size of the air tanker used is determined by the target area to be covered.

It can take 15 to 20 minutes to drop retardant. The process involves sending out a lead plane to evaluate the situation, doing a practice run and releasing a small line of smoke across the area. The tanker then drops the retardant along that smoke line.

The substance does have its opponents, including the nonprofit group Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics in Eugene, Oregon. The organization has filed lawsuits in the past over the issue.

Its members are current and former Forest Service employees, other government resource managers and environmental activists. The organization’s stated focus is to protect national forests and “to reform the U.S. Forest Service by advocating environmental ethics, educating citizens, and defending whistleblowers,” according to its website.

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Andy Stahl, the group’s executive director, said that using fire retardant endangers fish, people and rare plants.

“We have two concerns when it comes to fire retardant,” Stahl said. “One is that it is very dangerous for the pilots that deliver it. The second is that it doesn’t work. It doesn’t actually make a difference in the final outcome of the fires.”

Garcia acknowledged that fire retardant can potentially have adverse effects.

“There may be areas that may have some immediate sensitivity to some of the chemicals in there, mostly ammonium sulfate salts,” Garcia said. “But the long-term effect of wildfire through an area may be more detrimental.”

Ammonium sulfate, used as a dough strengthener and fertilizer for alkaline soils, is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

The fertilizing nature of fire retardant is what concerns the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.

“That’s great if you want to grow corn and soybeans,” Stahl said. “But if you’re trying to protect native species’ habitats, it’s not good to change the habitat.”

The Forest Service has improved its protocols for using fire retardant in recent years, including that retardant can’t be dropped within a certain distance of a waterway. The change came after a U.S. District Court in Montana found in 2010 that the agency’s environmental review of the practice violated the National Environmental Policy Act.

Tanner Puckett contributed to this story.

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Nature’s ASMR: How Deep Listening Could Help Save the Environment

PHOENIX – Saguaros and cardons tower against a soft gray sky as a family of quail tiptoes through the brush. Flowers glisten with raindrops. Under a tree, a man stands motionless. His eyes are closed, and he’s smiling softly.

Garth Paine is listening to Mother Nature.

Paine is an associate professor of digital sound and interactive media at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. He co-leads the Acoustic Ecology Lab, where he studies how sounds can help understand the environment and potentially help predict climate change.

At the Desert Botanical Garden, there are sounds of birds singing, critters tapping and insects chirping. There also are the sounds of cars zooming down Loop 202 and noise from airplanes overhead. These sounds all contribute to what Paine calls the sonic environment of the garden, which is in Papago Park.

Born in Sydney and raised in Tasmania, Paine is infatuated with sound. As a child, he said, he loved going into the wilderness by himself, whiling away the hours watching and listening to the world around him.

He later became a sound engineer for the national broadcasting network in Australia and started composing music with the sounds he recorded in nature.

“Throughout my life wherever I’ve gone in the world, I’ve made time to do field recordings to just kind of sit down, be still for a few hours and listen to the world,” Paine said.

His passion for environmental sounds inspired him to study them as a scientist.

“As somebody who goes out and listens to the environment on a very regular basis, I’ve heard changes in the environment and I’ve felt the changes in the sound quality because you literally feel them with the body, and I’ve been conscious that the acoustic ecology is changing.”

He’s now pioneering multiple projects to help communities understand their own environments through sound, and working to understand how sound could be a tool for predicting changes in the climate.

The Listen(n) Project

Paine spends a lot of time recording in Joshua Tree National Park in California, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Arizona and on other public lands, recording for his music and the Acoustic Ecology Lab.

“It struck me talking to people who live near those places that they were also very concerned about climate change and climate impact and they felt somehow disempowered because they were not in the cities, they couldn’t march in the marches,” he said. “They felt like there wasn’t a lot they could do.”

Thus the Listen(n) Project was born.

Six years ago, Paine and his team began holding listening and field-recording workshops and “soundwalks” in these communities. From those, he recruited a team of citizen scientists to record in the same location every month, and from this work he created the Listen(n) Project.

“That has really empowered people in those communities because they feel they have a role in the stewardship of those lands,” Paine said. “They’re much more conscious about then having something to say about that.”

Almost 50 citizen scientists contribute to Paine’s recordings.

“It’s spiritual. It’s science, and it’s a process of rehumanizing us in an overly technological society,” said Jennifer Kane, who has been a citizen scientist in Joshua Tree National Park since the Listen(n) Project began. Learning how to listen has empowered her understanding of the environment, she said.

This project is ongoing, and Paine and his team continue to conduct listening workshops and train citizen-scientists to contribute data to the EcoSonic Project.

-Video by Chloe Jones/Cronkite News

In field-recording workshops, citizen-scientists are trained to record the outdoors in surround sound. This data is contributed to the EcoSonic Project, and participants can use the recordings however they like. If time permits, Paine will add a workshop on composing music.

A Growing Database of Sound

Originally, the recordings from the Listen(n) Project were used only for music.

“I started to think about how we could use those recordings as a big data set to develop tools that would actually allow us to show transformation (of the ecology of an environment),” Paine said, “and if possible tools that will help use predict impact based solely on sound recordings.”

The EcoSonic Project began two years ago in collaboration with the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, which studies and supports the 30,000-acre McDowell Sonoran Preserve in northeast Scottsdale.

The purpose is to create a psychoacoustic model that can act as a baseline for environmental sound. What sets EcoSonic apart from other psychoacoustic studies is that it focuses on psychoacoustic properties of environmental sound. It looks at preferential sound qualities of natural environments, like reverberation from plants, and looks at ways to maintain these qualities in environments over time.

Paine defines psychoacoustics as the way sound is interpreted in the brain. The problem is that everyone’s brain perceives sound differently.

“Everything we hear is a construction, and this really comes to the core of the phenomenology and of psychoacoustics,” he said. And because everyone interprets sound uniquely, the challenge is measuring these subjective variables in an objective way.

Garth Paine studies the ecology of sound and how it helps us understand our environment. His work currently looks at the potential of sound to help predict climate change. (Photo by Chloe Jones/ Cronkite News)

Paine does this by analyzing sets of recordings, and he listens for various psychoacoustic properties, such as loudness, to create a model showing how these properties change based on, for example, the weather. To graph the data into a model, Paine fed the system information about psychoacoustics and the corresponding weather of those psychoacoustics when they were recorded.

“When I got the first graphing of that data, out of the model I was stunned because I was like, ‘Wow, it’s like so clear,’ like I had not for a second thought that the correlations were going to be so strong.”

To do the first predictions, Paine said, his team fed weather data in the model and asked what the psychoacoustics would be like the next day.

“The 24-hour trends were so close that I literally sat and stared at it for 10 minutes because I was like, this could actually be really powerful,” he said. “It was also a validation of what I’ve felt in my body for a long period of time being out in the world.”

Paine believes what he’s found is a connection between how changes in sound in everything from national parks to cities could be predictors of climate change. That change is heard before it’s seen, he said.

Paine hopes this model eventually will predict psychoacoustics of environments in the far future, and analyzing those sounds could provide information about the physical environment in that future.

A Link Between Sound and Climate

Sonic environments differ depending on the physical environment. A sound reverberates when it bounces off a surface and echoes to another location. Reverberation is more likely to occur off hard surfaces, so an urban environment with concrete and buildings will be much noisier than an environment with lush vegetation, which absorbs sound.

“One of the most exciting parts of what Garth is doing is that he is tapping into a part of the environment that we can’t sense,” said Sharon Hall, an ecosystem and urban ecologist at ASU. Animals, for example, are sensitive to sound and vibration, she said.

“What we don’t know yet is how the things that we’re doing in the environments – they could be slow kinds of changes, like climate change, or it could be kind of fast changes, like urban development,” she said.

But all of those changes, Hall said, will change the sonic environment “in ways that affect animals and even plants that we have no idea about now.”

In downtown Phoenix, for example, the soundscape is rich with noise of vehicles and the light rail; on First Fridays, add music and revelers. These sounds echo off structures to create a louder, busier sonic environment.

Natural sonic environments are more muted, with fewer human noises, and plants absorb a lot of sound. That’s why it’s important to listen.

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Paine said changes in sonic environments potentially could be heard years before corresponding physical changes are apparent.

“We hear things before we see them. … We hear the bird before we see it, but also actually we hear change before we see it,” he said. “Reduction in species count, we can hear that possibly a couple of years before we actually start to be able to count it in the behavior of the environment.”

With his work in the Listen(n) Project and EcoSonic Project, Paine is listening for sonic changes in environments, and hopes to see correspondence with physical changes, and while more time is needed to establish results, Paine said the results so far are promising.

The Power of Listening

Standing beneath a tree in the Desert Botanical Garden, Paine is tranquil.

“That plane is very obvious to us, right?” he asked, pointing to the sky. “The traffic on the freeway over there is also really clear, and what we can hear is that the plane masks the freeway.”

The plant life in the Desert Botanical Garden absorbs sound, Paine said, yet the reverberation from concrete can still be heard.

He talked about the difference between listening at the garden and listening in Joshua Tree before the sun rises, recounting how he lays on the earth there, completely still, completely present. With all of his attention directed toward his listening, Paine said he could hear tiny bat wings flutter, a woodpecker wake up and begin to steadily thrust its beak into wood.

“I like to say that listening makes the world remarkably richer. It really does.”

This story is part of Elemental: Covering Sustainability, a multimedia collaboration between Cronkite News, Arizona PBS, KJZZ, KPCC, Rocky Mountain PBS and PBS SoCal.

Why does Raúl Grijalva matter for public lands and the environment?

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – The Trump administration and Congress have systematically dismantled many Obama-era environmental regulations. Now, Democrats finally have control of the House and the committee with the most power over public lands – the House Committee on Natural Resources. Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona will be the new chairman, and he couldn’t be more different from his predecessor.

For one, Grijalva has been one of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s most vocal critics. Over the past few years, he has questioned Zinke about his spending on office furniture, his approach to shrinking Bears Ears National Monument, and about whether he suppressed scientific findings he didn’t agree with.

Zinke is the subject of at least three ethics investigations. As chair of the House Natural Resource Committee, Grijalva now has the power to push for more transparency in those inquiries. But Zinke is just part of the problem, the Tucson Democrat said.

“I think that if he were to resign or be sent away,” Grijalva said, “the legacy of kind of turning over Interior to the fossil fuel industry and the extraction industry is not going to go away. So there’s still things to look at.”

He was one of several members of Congress who boycotted President Trump’s inauguration in 2017. But he also made headlines when he worked closely with the current chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Rob Bishop, R-Utah, with Bishop, the current chair of the committee, about the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Now that he will have the formal power of leading a committee, Grijalva promises to look at environmental issues.

“What I think you can expect is a return to giving prominence to the conservation side that hasn’t been there in the last two years,” he said. “And any legislation that continues to rip away at our bedrock environmental laws, we’re not going to waste time on it.”

Grijalva said he also plans to focus on issues in Indian country, on protecting wildlife and the Endangered Species Act, preserving public lands, and the elephant in the room – climate change.

“Climate change has been scrubbed from the discussion,” Grijalva said. “Peer review has been severely handicapped. Panels of scientists have been eliminated and you don’t talk about climate change, you don’t talk about science anymore when you’re making decisions.”

He wants to change that. But Kathleen Sgamma, president of the industry group Western Energy Alliance, is not thrilled about a Democrat, specifically a politically progressive one such as Grijalva, taking the helm and, as she sees it, stirring things up.

She called Grijalva “extremely hostile to oil and natural gas development, economic development – ranching, mining, timber – any kind of development on federal lands.”

She said she’s not worried about losing too much ground, though – mainly because of partisan gridlock in Congress.

“It’s unfortunate that Congress cannot come together and find some compromises on natural resource issues,” she said, “but that’s just the nature of Washington, D.C.”

Others, though, have more faith in Grijalva’s ability to move things forward. Kieran Suckling, director of the environmental nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, is among them.

He argued Grijalva has “been able to broker deals Republicans both in the House and the Senate to protect the environment.”

Suckling is not a fan, however, of the current chair: “Bishop is really one of the most anti-environmental congressmen in Congress.”

Suckling sees Grijalva as an ally, and for good reason. Grijalva is on the advisory board of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute and has been vocal about prioritizing the environment.

For his part, Bishop issued a written statement in response to the transition.

“We look to continue being active next Congress as we move into doubling down on President Trump’s top notch environment and energy policies,” he wrote.

Whether he’ll be able to do that with Grijalva at the helm is an open question, but Grijalva is hopeful there will be bipartisanship on the committee. Still, regarding common ground with the former chair, Grijalva was modestly optimistic.

“We both like baseball,” he ventured. “I don’t know if we sometimes see the sky the same color, politically speaking, probably rarely. But you know that’s part of what we need in this Congress is a level of civility and respect for one another’s opinions. He’s shown that to me and I hope I’ve shown that to him.”

Grijalva will take over the chairmanship in January 2019.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Arizona PBS/Cronkite News’ Alexis Egeland and Imani Stevens contributed reporting to this piece.

Is the changing climate making you anxious? You’re not alone.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – We love our rivers, our mountains, our forests, deserts and wildlife in the West. They’re part of our economies, our lifestyles and our identity. But that very connection makes us vulnerable to a growing mental health problem: climate anxiety.

Wander around any town center or school campus around Colorado Springs and ask people their feelings about climate change and you might hear the words “scared,” “worried,” “dread” or “grief.”

Things just got even scarier with the United Nations’ latest report on climate change. It said the world had already reached a 1 degree Celsius increase above pre-industrial averages and that, “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.”

This news alone is enough to make anyone anxious. And such groups as the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association are paying attention. They’re publishing reports on how the fear of climate change can harm mental health.

Sabrina Helm, a researcher at the University of Arizona, wanted to find out who among us is the most vulnerable. She did a survey of several hundred people and found that “people who have a concern about nature and the environment in general, plants and animals, those are the ones who also report highest ecological stress. Unfortunately, also depression,” she said.

Helm believes people in the deserts of the West are especially sensitive because they “are very aware about how fragile the natural environment is. It doesn’t rain one year, and the changes are tremendous,” she said.

For Helm, who moved from Germany to the desert West some years ago, all of this hits home.

“It seems very dire to me,” she said. “If you read so much of the research, which paints not such a nice picture of future developments. … It affects researchers as well.”

In fact, based on Helm’s research, people who study the environment may actually be among the most affected by climate anxiety.

That includes Michael Lucid, a conservation biologist in northern Idaho. A few years ago, Lucid and his wife discovered a new species of slug, only to find it’s vulnerable to climate change.

Michael Lucid, a conservation biologist in northern Idaho, says climate change is part of his everyday reality as a scientist. (Photo courtesy of Michael Lucid)

He said it was disorienting to add a creature to the known world and simultaneously fear for its future. But climate change is part of his everyday reality as a biologist, as a parent and as a mountain dweller, he said.

“The last two summers in August have just been horrific smoke,” said Lucid, “and that has really gotten people talking about climate change.”

He said it makes him sad, but it also motivates him to work harder to find solutions for wildlife to survive and adapt.

This positive attitude fits with Helm’s research, which found that people who are the most stressed or depressed about global warming also tend to be the most proactive about finding solutions.

Laura Schmidt is a perfect example of this. She’s a recent environmental humanities graduate from the University of Utah.

Schmidt said the more she learned about the environment in graduate school, the more her anxiety increased. “And then I realized, you have to do something,” she said.

So she started convening support groups in Salt Lake City for people to talk about their climate anxieties. The groups became what she now calls the Good Grief Network. She said climate anxiety is something mainstream psychotherapy just hasn’t addressed head-on yet.

“Seeing the world around us come crashing down or be changed in ways we can’t even imagine,” Schmidt said, “is definitely going to have a psychological toll on us.”

So she’s growing the Good Grief network beyond Utah, and even into Canada and Europe. While developing the program, Schmidt interviewed scientists, activists, and writers about how they cope during hard times.

“Almost everybody said that they had some sort of spiritual practice,” she said. For some people, it was taking a walk in the forest.

For some people, it could be their church. Tom Trinidad is the pastor at the Faith Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. He said he has a number of congregants who are deeply concerned about the environment.

Tom Trinidad, pastor at Faith Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs, says many of his congregation are worried about climate change. (Photo by Ali Budner/91.5 KRCC)

“Some folks come to the church and they just want to be able to unburden their concerns and their hearts,” said Trinidad. “And that’s all we can do sometimes. But if you only say ‘Just trust God and there’s nothing you can do about it’ then that also robs them of the dignity of their human responsibility. And so we try to do a little bit of both.”

He noted Pope Francis’ lengthy treatise on actively dealing with climate change and said “all of us need to be talking about this.”

For Schmidt, it boils down to a simple choice.

“You can see this as a great opportunity for connection and for meaning and for community building,” she said. “Or you can sort of shut down and look the other way.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Searching for poachers, wildlife officers crack down on illegal hunting

FLORENCE, Arizona – Officer Laura Orscheln sets up her binoculars and tripod and stands on a ridge overlooking the quiet desert near Florence, a rural desert community an hour south of Phoenix. Scanning the desert for any movement, the Arizona Game & Fish Department wildlife manager spots something dark moving about a mile away.

Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife manager Officer Laura Orscheln looks for animals and hunters. (Photo by Meagan Boudreau/Cronkite News)

It’s just trash, so she sweeps her binoculars elsewhere. She’s “glassing” – a practice hunters use to identify game from a distance.

But Orscheln isn’t just looking for animals, she’s also looking for hunters. She keeps her eyes peeled and listens for gunshots.

Nearly 100 wildlife managers travel across Arizona to monitor hunts, check tags and licenses and study animal populations. They focus much of their time on protecting wildlife and trying to stop poaching – a duty they say is critical to maintaining healthy populations and ensure the survival of species across Arizona.

Poaching is a widespread problem around the world. According to the Humane Society of the United States, legal hunters kill tens of millions of animals every year. But for each animal killed legally, another is killed illegally, it says.

Experts estimate that less than 5 percent of poachers in the U.S. are caught, the Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust reports.

In 2017, Arizona Game & Fish issued 76 citations for the illegal taking of big game, fishing violations and the unlawful killing of raptors. The department collected $74,500 in fines.

On this day, a javelina hunt, licensed and organized by Game & Fish, is under way. It’s one of the many big game hunts throughout the year. As a wildlife manager, it’s part of Orscheln’s job to keep track of what’s happening in this expanse of desert.

Javelinas resemble wild boars but are members of the collared peccary family. Some people eat them by cooking them like pork. Hunters in Arizona can kill two a year, with a permit. (Photo by Wing-Chi Poon, Creative Commons )

Because of the negative effects poaching can have on wildlife management – and the multi million-dollar economic impact hunting has on the state – the department has placed an emphasis on catching poachers in Arizona. It offers thousands of dollars in rewards for information leading to arrests, manages the Operation Game Thief website and toll-free hotline (800-352-0700) and even uses robotic mule deer decoys to try to catch thieves.

Tyler VanVleet, the department’s law-enforcement program manager, said the hotline is essential to the mission.

“We can’t be out there 24/7, so we rely quite a bit on tips from the public. We get a lot of information from neighbors and people who are out in the field and see something,” he said. “We rely on people to police themselves and do what’s right by the law.”

Last year, the hotline received more than 1,000 calls from people reporting possible poaching incidents or suspicious activity.

“There’s a difference between a hunter and a sportsman,” Officer Orscheln said. “A sportsman is somebody who goes out and abides by all the laws to the best of their ability. They’re out there with the intention of doing it the right way. It’s not just runnin’ and gunnin’, trying to kill something.”

Officer Laura Orschelna with the Arizona Game & Fish Department patrols a javelina hunt near Florence. (Photo by Meagan Boudreau/Cronkite News)

Hunting in Arizona

During Orscheln’s patrol near Florence, she stopped at a campsite after noticing a javelina hanging by its hind legs from a tree. The hunters had gutted the javelina and hung it to preserve the meat.

When Orscheln arrived, the hunters showed their licenses. The hunters had the proper paperwork, but they had failed to tag their animal. Tags are required for permission to hunt certain animals.

In Arizona, there are small-game and big-game hunts. The hunts are organized according to weapon, species and geographic location. For small game, such as doves, pigeons and squirrels, hunters need a general hunting license, and they must hunt the animal within its specified season. For example, squirrels are in season from October to December.

To hunt big game, such as deer, javelina and bears, hunters must apply for a permit through Arizona Game & Fish. The department issues big-game permits through a draw system, which only allows a certain number of permits and tags each year, depending on the species’ population, Orscheln said.

For example, permitted hunters can take two javelinas a year, but they can only kill one bighorn sheep during a lifetime. (And obtaining a permit isn’t easy – the state auctions or raffles three tags each year, bringing in about $400,000.)

Even if a hunter has a license, failing to tag the animal right after the kill can result in a citation. Orscheln said it’s critical for hunters to tag correctly to prevent “buddy hunting.”

“Buddy hunting” is essentially using someone else’s tag for an animal you shot.

“Or people will – and this is the snakey, criminal stuff – people will kill a deer and not put a tag on it. They make it all the way home, they never get checked,” Orscheln said. “Nobody ever knows. They come back out, and they hunt again on the same tag.”

On the February hunt, the hunter who killed the javelina was in his late teens and said it was his first big-game kill. Orscheln let him off with a warning, but she advised him to that he needs to tag his animal as soon as he gets it.

Poaching doesn’t necessarily only mean killing animals without the proper permits.

Orscheln said one form of poaching is wasting game meat. “People can’t just hunt and kill things. You have to take it home for consumption,” Orscheln said. “Or donate it.”

Following the rules

The department established the hotline in 1979 to bring civil action against poachers, or those unlawfully taking, wounding or killing wildlife, according to the department’s website.

It’s one of the main ways the wildlife managers find poachers. Orscheln said they need callers to provide as much information as possible.

“We need the vehicle that they get in and leave in, and a license plate, and what their equipment looks like,” Orscheln said. “If there’s something weird about the way they walk, we want to know that because it all just helps us narrow in on the person who committed the violation. We’re just like any other officer. We can’t write a ticket based off of assumption and heresy.”

Experts said the hotline is popular because most hunters understand the importance of keeping wildlife populations healthy.

“It is absolutely important to go about everything the right way, as far as getting your tag the proper way, putting in through the lottery system,” said Daniel Gradillas, 39, of El Mirage. “Once they give you a tag, they’re able to record data and know how many animals were taken out of a certain area.”

It’s often a delicate balance. Game & Fish officials must weigh populations carefully. If there are too many animals, diseases could spread. If there are too few, hunting could seriously deplete the population.

“If somebody illegally takes an animal,” Orscheln said, “they have essentially robbed someone else of the opportunity to legally take that animal, or they’ve robbed the population of a breeding animal that would contribute to sustaining the population.”

There’s another reason officials want to keep animal populations at healthy levels.

Hunting in Arizona brings about $592 million into the state’s economy, supports more than 5,700 jobs and generates $42.4 million annually in taxes for Arizona, according to a 2011 study done by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Fish & Game website boasts that Arizona “offers some of the best, and most unique, hunting opportunities in the nation.”

Gradillas said hunting has been a part of his life since he was a child.

“I first started deer hunting, and to this day, deer hunting still excites me. I love the challenge,” he said. “Any time I go out, I still feel like a little kid. Anytime I look through binoculars and I see a deer, it’s just that excitement that was instilled in me as a child and it never gets old.”

Daniel Gradillas, an El Mirage resident, has been hunting since he was a child. Gradillas is also a taxidermist and is opposed to poaching. (Photo by Meagan Boudreau/Cronkite News)

Poaching: ‘It’s stealing’

Orscheln said most hunters are used to visits from wildlife managers.

During a hunt, Orscheln said she wants to “talk to as many hunters as I possibly can and fly the flag so to speak. Let them know we’re out there.”

“I try to go to an area where I know I’m going to find camps.”

In 2017, wildlife violations in Arizona resulted in $74,500 in civil fines. That money goes directly to the Wildlife Theft Prevention Fund, according to the Fish & Game Department. The department uses the money to reward people who report information that leads to an arrest, fund and promote the hotline, and support investigations into possible poaching.

In January, the department offered up to $1,000 for information leading to an arrest regarding the illegal killing of a mule deer near Tucson.

“Poaching itself, it’s stealing,” Gradillas said. “It’s one of the most selfish acts that someone can commit.”

“People can go a lifetime going the proper channels trying to get a tag, say, for a bighorn sheep. Then there’s someone who will go out in the middle of the night and blind a bighorn sheep with their headlights and take it, shoot and then not even take the animal, just shoot it for the thrill of the kill. But it’s very unfortunate and sad.”