Words: Dillon Osleger – POW Athlete Alliance Member | Photo: Tyler Nutter

The west coast of the US is ablaze. Fire–the natural balancing act of healthy forest and grassland ecosystems—is now responding to modern civilization’s fire suppression practices and a planet under climate crisis. California saw record-low precipitation and snowpack levels this winter, while the entire Pacific Coast experienced record-high temperatures throughout the summer. These factors have converged to produce historic wildfires, closure of public lands, and a blanket of smoke blocking out the sun over much of the West Coast.

These fires and the resultant smoke have done incredible harm, from death and property loss to longterm health impacts to essential workers and residents. Yet, for those who’ve built their lives around access to the outdoors, those consequences aren’t as difficult to process as our new inability to recreate in the outdoor spaces we hold near and dear. 

These fires have destroyed dozens of miles of trails among additional forest devastation, leaving the US Forest Service to make the difficult decision to close all national forests and many public lands in the state of California. Our outdoor spaces have been taken away from us. Whether for work or recreation, we can not head out on a mountain bike ride, a trail run or even a mellow walk in the woods in any national forest in the entire state. In short: California is closed to outdoor recreation. My professional work as a trail builder has stopped for the foreseeable future; my own identity as a mountain biker and mountain athlete has been paused.

San Francisco under an orange sky. Photo: Tyler Nutter

While my period of reflection in response to these natural disasters is not over, I have gleaned two important takeaways:

  • A) Climate change is tangibly affecting our landscapes, our health, our work, and our recreation throughout the entirety of each year.
  • B) My emotions over losing public land must be viewed in the light of those who have never had access to public lands. Feeling the emotional void and additional stress of not having my safe spaces to escape to only begins to provide some perspective towards the quarter of Californians who do not live within walking distance of open space. There are many more beyond those who have never had the opportunity to visit a national park or forested trail.

We as outdoor athletes have the opportunity to recognize the impacts our industrial civilization has on the planet in realtime. Whether it’s through our sustainability choices, our climate impacts or our management of landscapes, our voices make a difference in how our government acts. It is our responsibility to speak up for not only nature but also for those of our own species who are unjustly impacted to a greater degree.

It is more clear than ever, no matter your sport, no matter your season, no matter your passion, climate change is impacting us all. We have the opportunity to better our course this November. Make a plan to vote, help change the planet.