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Episode 6: Recreation in the Face of Ecological Collapse


A graphic with a photo of Frances Ngo on the top half and Lulu Avila on the bottom half. Frances stands in front of a river and phragmites plants holding binoculars. She has green ish blue dyed brown hair. Lulu is standing in front of snow covered mountains holding a snowboard with a blue and green outdoor illustration on it. She's wearing an orange ski jacket, helmet, and goggles. In the top left corner of the graphic it says Stay Salty: Lakefacing stories in a blue handwritten font.

Episode Description:


Recreation opportunities are a big reason why people live in Utah. Our mountains and waterways are ideal places to ski, bird watch, bike and refresh oneself. But as we face drought, these activities that bring many of us joy are under threat. In this episode of Stay Salty, we talk with Lulu Avila, a snowboarder, and Frances Ngo, a wildlife biologist and birder, about the ways they bring people into relationship with Great Salt Lake through recreation.


Lulu and Frances both approach this work with a focus on diversity and justice. Lulu breaks down barriers for people of color in snow sports, while Frances hosts birding outings for the queer community. We explore the joy and challenges they both experience as they strive to increase diversity, equity and inclusion in the outdoors while simultaneously confronting ecological collapse.


Transcript:


MUSIC FADES IN 


Olivia Juarez: RECREATION: our community’s iconic and beloved ways to refresh oneself, from snow sports to birding, wouldn’t be possible without the water that fills Great Salt Lake. 


MUSIC FADES OUT


OJ: This past winter, I skied more than I ever have in a season–30 days. I spent many-a-winter-morning watching the sunlight grow over the valley towards Great Salt Lake as I waited for the ski bus on Wasatch Boulevard. Since seeing Great Salt Lake reach a record low in 2022 this bus stop view impressed upon me an acute awareness of how precious and essential the snow is.


Now, the last patches of mountain snow are melting down the Salt Lake Valley’s seven canyons in the summer heat. It flows through our watershed and reaches our faucets; it gives Great Salt Lake life; and it is the foundation of the recreational activities that bring us life también. 


Being a skier is a part of who I am. I was first introduced to the sport 10 seasons ago. I skied twice that season. The next year, I used some of my student loans to purchase a pass and gear. The rest is history. 


I know I’m not alone in having such a strong love for a sport that it becomes a part of your identity. But what if the death of Great Salt Lake makes that sport impossible? Would you still want to stay here? 


THEME SONG FADES IN


In this episode of Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories we’re exploring how recreation connects people to Great Salt Lake and her waters. We talk with a snowboarder and a birder who help locals develop a sense of belonging and kinship with each other and the natural environment through their recreational activities. 


The mountains, birds, and of course waters of the Great Salt Lake Basin are the reason that so many people call this place home. If we want to stay, then we must restore and conserve a healthy water level at Great Salt Lake. And we must make sure that recreating in this watershed is as accessible, inclusive and safe as possible. For everyone. 


I’m your host Olivia Juarez, and you’re listening to Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories. 


THEME SONG FADES OUT


OJ: In the spring I sat down with Lulu Avila, a local snowboarding ICON and instructor leading the way on diversity, equity and inclusion in outdoor recreation. 


Lulu Avila: My name is Lulu Avila. I live in Salt Lake City. I am a snowboard instructor at Park City. I'm an ambassador for Solitude Mountain Resort and for Coalition Snow. I founded the Outdoor Inclusivity Project, which is an organization to connect marginalized groups in the outdoors to outdoor recreation opportunities. 


OJ: Can you hear, see, feel, smell, taste or touch Great Salt Lake from where you're at in your day to day life?


LA: I mean, I think the joke is when it rains it smells. So I can definitely, you know, smell it, then I can, I feel it the most when I'm hiking or mountain biking. I live right next to the Bonneville shoreline. And I feel like I'm just in it. You know, it's really surreal to be on the ridge and to remember that this was the shoreline.


OJ: What's your personal relationship with Great Salt Lake? What does Great Salt Lake mean to you?


LA: I mean, when I mentioned mountain biking and being on the trail and realizing that this used to be water, and now this is what makes it, you know, a home for us. I think that's my relationship. It's the ability to live here because of the Great Salt Lake because, you know, so much of our life revolves around it, like my existence in Salt Lake wouldn't exist without it. And I think that I'm very thankful and grateful for this body of water that grounds all of us and is at the center of everything. Yeah, and I mean, it's an incredible place. I feel like we often look at the national parks and we feel, you know, in awe with them. But then I remember that the Salt Lake is right there. And it's such a surreal thing to see a body of water as it's, you know, your state's lifeforce.


OJ: In what ways would you say that Great Salt Lake is the state's lifeforce?


LA: I mean, without it, we can't live here. And I think that as climate change is worsening the situation with the Great Salt Lake as it's dying and drying and being made aware of the fact that it still being here is what lets me recreate here.


MUSIC


OJ: So you are, as you said, a snowboarder, instructor, an outdoor recreation access advocate. How does the ongoing collapse of Great Salt Lake affect your mission for more fun and inclusion on the slopes or in other sports?


LA: I think for me, it feels like a race against time. So as we battle the socioeconomic barriers of the snow industry, making it more inaccessible now more than ever. I mean, if you look at the prices of the passes people use here to recreate, as we try to overcome those barriers, it's hard to ignore the fact that our snow is getting worse. I mean, you sit on the chairlift and you hear about people who grew up here, who, you know, describe a really mythical land where there's no lines and the snow topples over all of the trees, and you know, like growing up, it didn't look like this. And so being made aware that I want to diversify snowsports, I want to make it more equitable, but, you know, as the Great Salt Lake dries up, as snowpack diminishes, how exactly is that even accessible, you know? 


OJ: The Utah Department of Water Resources projects that temperatures in our state will increase by 4-10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. If we fail to reduce heat-trapping carbon emissions, there will be 30% less snow in the State by 2100. You might remember some of the abnormally warm, dry winters before 2022–that is what our future snowpack will look like with 30% less snow. 


Less snow in our mountains means less water reaches Great Salt Lake. As the lake dries, dust from the exposed lakebed blows onto snowy peaks. That dust makes the snow melt earlier and faster, and drought gets more severe as time passes.


If Great Salt Lake totally dries up, we lose the lake effect on our snowpack. Lake effect happens when cold winter air blows over the warmer, salty lake. Heat and moisture from the inland sea build up storm clouds, and contribute 5-10% of Cottonwood Canyon snow, extending our ski season by 5 to 7 weeks. 


After the 2020 to 2023 snow year, which was a historic snow year, and I mean, a lot of people, especially in the backcountry, talked about accessing things that haven't been accessed in over 100 years and just just seeing this incredible year, a lot of people have really convinced themselves that we're going to be okay, that it'll all work out that there is no pressure or urgency to focus on conserving the Great Salt Lake. And it's almost unfortunate that we had this magical year instead of being activated to continue to conserve snow and to, you know, make snowboarding more accessible. People are using that to justify status quo. And so, I think for me personally, it almost feels like a burden. Like I want people to invest in snowboarding and to access it, but it feels like I'm lying to friends, because I'm like, I don't know how long this is going to be here. There are days I don't think about the consequences of the drought. But, I mean, it's an, it's an active thing that I will see in my lifetime, and that people who live here will see in their lifetime. And so I think it's important for me to communicate that, you know, it is part of the holistic conversation of snow sports. What's happening in this drought is not something that later people will deal with, it is our burden to deal with. And part of that is being transparent and making that you know, constant in our conversations.


OJ: Just how do you negotiate or manage the sort of like counterbalance of like, knowing that we have this unstable future, recognizing that we are able to do something about it, but very much like you said, you feel like you're lying to people, when you're like, Okay, get invested in the sport, maybe it'll last you like, a good part of your adult life? Maybe not. Like, how, how do you manage all of that, just with all of the uncertainty?


LA: I think, you know, it's just a cycle. It's a vicious cycle. I feel uncertain about the future of snow sports, but then I snowboard. And then the uncertainty like melts away. I mean, literally, I feel so at peace, and so hopeful. And I think part of that is seeing the shift in snowsports. We're seeing such an active shift in the landscape of it, and people who are riding, it’s the most diverse it's ever been. And I've had so many students of color. I've worked with organizations, specifically like SOS outreach, who primarily brings Spanish speaking students. And so I think, just the, like, it's infectious to bring people into snow sports. And that's how I balance it. Like, I'm not sure if it's going to be here in the grand scheme of climate change. But I have faith in people falling in love with it the way I have to have a sense of preservation and want to do something. And I think that also ties back to just being honest and transparent about the future of it. We're at a really critical point in time where we can make a difference. And if we're open and honest about the state of it, I think it'll activate people to want to conserve and protect it.


OJ: So what does that mean, for people who don't have access, though, for the people who can't afford it or can't get the ride?


LA: I think a lot of my advocacy stems from transportation and making that equitable. I think when it comes to accessing the outdoors, I think the challenge will always be that people dismiss it because it's based a lot on joy. I think being an advocate for your like local pathways, your small parks are also just as important. And I find that in places like Utah, people often dismiss the importance of, you know, green spaces like that.


OJ: I mean, I hear you kind of talk about like, a whole shift in framework about, like, what it means to be in relationship with nature, and just focus on recreation as the way of connecting with nature and the outdoors in the first place. Like, you shouldn't have to get the physical benefits of nature because like, you're gonna go do the thing in the outdoors. But it's because it's there. And it's thriving, and it's around you when you're going to school and going to work. And just like living your life, right?


LA: Right, and I think a lot of that comes from my experience as an educator in Title I schools or low income schools. The landscape is different, but we still have the ability to, you know, get outside and really appreciate your community. And I think it's important in places like Utah, where there is such a gap in recreation, and the access to it. And I think that's the biggest misconception. I think a lot of people think that everyone in Utah snowboards, it's actually scary how many people don't, because it just kind of speaks to the inability of access the fact that people can't get to the trails. I mean, I meet people all the time, who grew up here who didn't have the ability to snowboard or ski. And, you know, looking at that and asking, like, How can this be different and better is always the first step. But I think for me, it's always like, How can I create a world where people who wouldn't typically have access to this have a choice to do this? I don't envision everyone being a snowboarder. But I envision a world where that, you know, pathway is easy and isn't filled with barriers, especially ecological ones in a place where we're in proximity to it.


OJ: How long have you been snowboarding?


LA: I have been snowboarding since 2020. I learned on a ski trip to Japan because it was actually cheaper for me at that point in my life to fly to Japan, and ski there than it was to buy an icon pass or an epic pass. And I came back and I was, you know, I told myself that I was going to do this. And then I looked at passes. And then I was like, maybe not. And then I looked up gear. And there was such a high barrier to entry, I think about that feeling a lot when I advocate for people to join me in snowboarding. Typically, they say it takes about four lessons for someone to feel comfortable. And these private lessons are upwards of $1,200. So, you know, I think about that moment, when I came back from Japan. I mean, I was in another continent, and I came back to what is known as like one of the best places to ski, we have the greatest snow on Earth. And so I thought that when I came back from Japan, it would be such an easy segue to start snowboarding, like I live in Salt Lake, I just learned how to do it. My partner is a big snowboarder, it should be no problem. And it was barrier after barrier, whether it was financial, or the snow wasn't great. Or the public transportation was really lacking. And so it was a struggle. And I think of that often when I invite people out. I try to minimize those hurdles or barriers because I know when I first started how hard it was for me. And I mean, my first season was so fun. And then quickly after my first season, I became an ambassador for Solitude and Coalition. And I know that isn't like most people's experience. It doesn't really pan out that way. And I know that having the sponsorships has really reduced my barrier of entry, especially financially. I guess that's where the intersection of sports and inclusivity kind of hits. Right. We, you know, see people who really are nostalgic for a time that was here in Utah, back in the day when you could show up to your ski hill at any time of the day. And it'd be a great powder day, and you didn't have to worry about passes, the icon wasn't here. And, you know, we're also at a time where people are the most equitable, and we have the most people of color and snow sports. And so we're trying, that's a balancing act within itself. I mean, it's hard to ignore the lines, it's hard to ignore the crowding, but it's also the most diverse it's ever been. I like to reference AASI’s numbers, which is the American Association of Snowboard Instructors, they show a larger growth in instructors that are Latino or Asian or Black. And so seeing that does make me hopeful, you know, it's heading in the right direction.


OJ: Yeah. Do you want to talk a little bit about your experience, like mentoring the SOS outreach youth that come and snowboard with you? 


LA: Yeah, so SOS outreach is an organization based out of Colorado, and they have different locations, they partner with different resorts throughout the country. And I work at Park City. So I had the opportunity of doing two separate sessions for them, which was working with kids who normally wouldn't be able to access snow sports. And in this instance, to give context, the students were chosen from schools in Heber, which is about 35 minutes from Park City. So to live 35 minutes away from a resort, but not be able to partake, because it's too expensive just shows you how that gap continues to widen. But these kids primarily come from Spanish speaking homes, or at least my group did. And so when I took over, one of the pros of me taking over was that I spoke Spanish fluently. I mean, they were awesome. It was super rewarding, but also fun for myself to let my guard down and to be able to bond with these kids on a cultural level that I often don't get in snow sports. It's a really white dominated sport. And so to be able to share in my culture and speak Spanish and talk about hot Cheetos or takis, or, I would ask the kids you know, do you prefer red pozole or green pozole, and to have that cultural tie, I think, built a bond that other instructors didn't have. And it was fun to you know, name ourselves like my green pozole team and they loved it. And it was fun to talk about our parents and to be able to swap stories and very much understand especially over the holidays like what is your family going to do and understand their traditions, and it was also really fun to see the comfortability that the parents had when they saw that there was an instructor that was Spanish speaking. I thought it was great. I mean, I think it pushed me to be a better rider, but it pushed me to, again, like believe there's a better future for snow sports. It was so great.


OJ: Okay, are you team pozole verde or rojo?


LA: I was, I'm verde. That's what I grew up with. But I definitely, you know, it was just so fun for the kids to be like that's so gross we’re a red family only.


MUSIC


OJ: Would the death of Great Salt Lake impact your decision or ability to keep doing this work or your decision to like live here in Salt Lake Valley?


LA: I think about my relationship with the Great Salt Lake and how much of my life is dependent on our water source and it being here. And if it wasn't here, I couldn't live here. And if snow wasn't here, I'm out of a job. Part of the reason I stick to Salt Lake is the accessibility to the resorts. A lot of my urgency, it's I mean, it comes from self preservation in the sense that like, I want to live in the Great Salt Lake I, you know, I want to live in Utah. I love where I live. I love the community. I love the outdoor recreation. I love the accessibility. I also love that there's a strong Hispanic community here. That's a very special thing. You don't see that in Jackson. You don't see that in McCall. You don't see that in these resort towns. And so to have such a special place, and to feel that it's so fragile and no one has a sense of urgency is scary.


In Japan, I think I was really moved by the concept of people snowboarding well past the age that I thought people did anything. I met someone who was like 85 who was skiing. And so with that I want to live in a place where I too can snowboard until I'm 85 and that means protecting water and protecting the snow here.


MUSIC


LA: Water is our life force and we should you know carry a really high responsibility to interact with it and recreate with it and to protect it.


MUSIC


NARRATION 

OJ: This spring I participated in a Let’s Go Birding Together outing at the Nature Center at Pia Okwai. Pia Okwai is the Shoshone and Goshute name for the Jordan River, so the Tracy Aviary recently renamed the facility. I talked with Frances Ngo, who is the Manager of Conservation Outreach at the Tracy Aviary. She is also an incredible artist; Frances designed the Stay Salty cover art! 


OJ: We're recording here outside of the Tracy Aviary’s Jordan River Nature Center, so we got birds chirping in the background, got people cruising down 3300 South. Please share your name where you live and any professional or personal titles that you identify with.


Frances Ngo: My name is Francis. I use she/her pronouns, and currently I live in Poplar Grove in Salt Lake. But originally I grew up in and around Los Angeles. So I guess I would identify myself as a wildlife biologist or scientist or zoologist. And yeah, I guess, mixed race poet, artist and just creative all around I suppose. 


OJ: Thank you. What brought us to talk to you at the Jordan River Nature Center today is the Let's Go Birding Gogether our team which was so fun, I feel so relaxed and connected to our local ecosystem now. We saw goals magpies, pigeons mallards Red Wing, blackbirds, flicker birds, house sparrows, and others. Do any of the birds that we saw today also visit the lake?


FN: Yeah, so especially the red winged blackbirds inhabit sort of like the marshy areas at the border of the lake. Goals are very prevalent. You'll see lots of them flocking there. See mallards and other types of like waterfowl are very critical, like, Great Salt Lake is a very critical habitat for a lot of these migrating waterfowl.


OJ: And can you tell me about Let's Go Birding Together?


FN: So Let's Go Birding Together was originally started by the Audubon Society in New York during pride month. So they have a series of like bird walks and events to celebrate, like, if you look at the acronym, Let's Go Birding Together also is LGBT. And so they first started that out in New York, but a lot of different organizations have picked it up since then. So a lot of different orgs like across the country will host LGBT, like bird walks, events, workshops, and things like that just to create welcoming spaces for queer and trans community who are connected to birding and wildlife.


OJ: Why do we need queer birding spaces?


FN: I think just because, I know like nature and queer joy and like having places for queer people to like, feel very seen connected and safe together in nature is very important. Because I think there is the acknowledgement that sometimes like queer people, like when we go out and present ourselves just as we are in the world, can face a lot of danger in like sometimes outdoor spaces or in spaces that we've been traditionally marginalized from, excluded from or persecuted in. So I think having dedicated spaces that are very, like, clear and intentional about like, this is supposed to be something safe and celebratory for everyone who comes here, it's really important.


NARRATION 

OJ: I chatted with two sisters after the Let’s Go Birding Together outing this spring. They shared how the nature center creates a safe and welcoming space for them. 


OJ: What are your names and what brought you to Let's Go Birding Together today?


Lexi (LGBT PARTICIPANT): I'm Lexi,


OJ (LGBT PARTICIPANT): I’m OJ. 


Lexi (LGBT PARTICIPANT): We were looking for a safe space to be queer and look at birds and kind of be ourselves and we wanted to look at species around the river. 


OJ (LGBT PARTICIPANT): Yeah, absolutely connecting to people and connecting to nature, 


Lexi (LGBT PARTICIPANT): We did not grow up here. And we are not LDS. So we feel alone in the city a lot. Our political beliefs don't line up with some, like a lot of people. And this just feels like I never feel unsafe or out of place at the Jordan River Nature Center. And so being able to go together, and be here is so special. 


OJ (LGBT PARTICIPANT): It's definitely a great community place.


MUSIC 


OJ: If you had to choose the most queer bird, which would it be?


FN: Oh my goodness, okay. Let me think that's so good. Okay, well, I'm biased. My personal favorite is the Laysan albatross. So they are known to form very long pair bonds with each other. But there is an island, Oahu, where there's like a larger percentage of female-female albatross pairs. Yeah. Which is super cool. And so it's so cute to see, like, the pairs come back together, like do their little like courtship dance. And you're like, these are two females that have been together for so long. And I love that for them. It's really cute. But there obviously are lots of different types of birds. I guess when it comes to thinking about like, queerness. Like, it's a very natural thing that happens in the bird world. And so when we're thinking of like, oh, birds must always biologically be male and female. And that's the only way that they pair up. That's not quite the case for a lot of different species.


OJ: Do you know anything about the queer ecology of the Great Salt Lake ecosystem?


FN: So phalaropes are a species of shorebird that are very common along the Great Salt Lake. And again, if we're thinking about, like, different types of ways that birds are in community with each other, phalaropes are a little uncommon in that they have a polyandrous mating system. So that means that females will usually take multiple male mates. So she might lay eggs, and then just be like, peace out. The males are the ones who are like in charge as she goes and does whatever she wants to do, live their best life. So I think that is one thing that I sometimes like to bring up, is that birds, like have many different types of mating systems and relating to one another. So like a polyandrous system, versus like, in some birds, like the females, the one that has parental care in others, like the male is the one who's in charge of raising chicks. Sometimes, like cowbirds, for example, will lay their eggs in somebody else's nest, and they don't raise their own babies. Acorn woodpeckers have a very interesting system in which they are sort of like communal breeders, and sometimes they are birds who like have chicks and then they have helper birds who are non breeding, but they are like part of this like larger family unit, and they all like pitch in together to raise this little brood. So many different ways of being. 


OJ: wildlife watching is a really popular form of recreation for a lot of people here in our community and also nationwide. A study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service found in 2022 that 57% of the US population aged 16 or older. Of course, most of them were for birding. 


Do you think there's any significance to why LGBT wildlife watching spaces are oriented around birding rather than other forms of wildlife watching?


FN: Yeah, I think because first of all, it is easy to see birds almost anywhere that you go, and throughout any season. So usually, you can just like walk out in like your backyard, like along the street, and there's usually birds of some sort, versus here in North America, it's very hard to see large mammals. So like, we do definitely have like foxes, deer and other like mammals who live along the river, but it's a lot harder to see them. And then I think when it comes to amphibians, and reptiles were very small and secretive, it's even harder to just casually be like, we're gonna go out and see some lizards, but maybe not. So I think especially like in the wintertime, when they're less active, you're like, we might not see anything. So birds, I think just represent sort of an entry point to wildlife watching in general, just like they're always there. And you don't always need special equipment to go and see them, you can just walk out and listen to them. 


But I also think that there's like something about birds that very much captures the imagination of people, like there's lots of poems, movies, and stories about birds, and like their flight, and their flight to and from places. And when we think about where birds come from, and where they go, I think finding a lot of stories and connection in the migration and their movement resonates with people. That, and then I think just in general, like when we think about other like non human creatures like that are living alongside us. Birds are very much present. And so I'm not very much present in the minds of people.


OJ: What are the benefits of birding to people in general?


FN: Yeah, I guess one of the big things that I hear from people is how mindful it can be. Because if you're going out there to specifically look for birds, and like, figure out like, Who is this bird? You really do have to use all of your senses to like, follow the birds, notice them, like, what pattern do they have in their flight? Like, what does their song sound like? What color are they in this season? And so using all of your senses to figure out like, who is this other creature, and it very much brings you in the moment because you're like listening to sort of like the river. You're listening to the rustle of the wind, you're listening for this bird singing, and just being very present. And then also, when you like birding in a group, there's a lot of laughter. I think that comes along with that. And people are just like, Did you see that? And you're like, No, the bird just flew away. And then there's like, a whole bunch of laughter if everyone is just like, ah, let's classic. Like, as soon as someone points out a bird, it's gone. So I don’t know, I think just like a lot of like joy in experiencing nature together and finding something to search for together.


OJ: Thank you. Do you want to talk more about migration of people, migration of birds and the Great Salt Lake ecosystem?


FN: Yes. Okay, so when it comes to the Great Salt Lake ecosystem, it is a saline lake that is very much interconnected with other saline lakes throughout the country and beyond. So for example, phalaropes who travel in between the saline Lake ecosystems, they can travel as far down as Argentina, to Laguna Mar Chiquita, which is another saline lake ecosystem, but there are also others in California, like the Salton Sea, and some in Canada. So when we're thinking about birds, like moving in between these bodies of water, like they are traveling many, many miles and borders essentially don't exist. What exists and matter to them are these pockets of habitat. And so I think sometimes people don't always realize like the birds that we're seeing at Great Salt Lake have traveled and will continue to travel between all of these places. And if there is like a sudden decline or disappearance of the Great Salt Lake, this very much affects birds who live in Argentina and who are coming and traveling through. So we are very much connected in like migratory pathways. 


MUSIC 


OJ: What is your personal relationship with Great Salt Lake? And what does Great Salt Lake mean to you?


FN: I guess my personal relationship, I guess I think of it in like two parts, like first, like as a scientist who does like study lots of birds, like the understanding that there's a lot of data to be gathered from the birds who are on the Great Salt Lake. And also as, like, a place where, like, I'll go out and be like, I appreciate this. But I also know that this is, like, very critical for the creatures that I study and learn lots about. So kind of like a thing of wonder very much, like, when I'm looking at the landscape, and just like knowing the wealth of information about the birds, and like how they move and use this place, I'm just like, wow, like, very amazing. 


And when I think of it from a human perspective, I have a lot of good memories of going out with friends for the first time because I didn't grow up in Salt Lake. But the first time I came out here with my friends who had built lots of stories around the Great Salt Lake, and like hearing that from them, and then going out one January to the Spiral Jetty, and making like a whole day trip of it, having lots of memories of like laughing with people hearing stories about, like, how they've seen change along the lake, and then, like, watching the sunsets together, as we're driving through. So I think a lot of like, very good, like, personal memories.


OJ: Oh, yeah, that's a beautiful memory. Thank you for sharing. And can you talk about the relationship between the Jordan River and Great Salt Lake? 


FN: Yeah, so the Jordan River sort of connects Utah Lake and the Great Salt Lake. And so is like a major supplier of water into the Great Salt Lake. And, yeah, there have been more than 200 species of birds documented along the Jordan River itself. So although like the Great Salt Lake, everybody knows it as this very critical habitat, the Jordan River itself, also in its own right, is a very important place for birds to congregate to migrate and to sort of follow this path of water between Great Salt Lake and other places in the valley.


OJ: How is a healthy Great Salt Lake ecosystem from Utah Lake to the Jordan River to Great Salt Lake and everything around, interconnected with queer liberation?


FN: When I think about the state of our ecosystems, and the state of Great Salt Lake, we know that queer people, and queer people of color, will disproportionately be affected by any of the pollution that happens if there's a decline in Great Salt Lake. But I also think that it's very important for queer community to be connected to nature in a way that's like celebratory, and being able to be out there to be your full self. But also enjoying nature is something that people don't always have the opportunity to do. I guess, when I think about queer liberation, it's very much like the idea of being queer exists throughout many different types of cultures. And so I think sometimes, like, the definition of queer that we are given in, like, western US society, is one definition, but I think it's been very much framed through the lens of like white queers. So I think knowing that when it comes to like queer rights, and queer culture, that a lot of like queer people of color have been on the forefront of defining that, challenging societal norms. And it is something that lots of people today are continuing to do. But I think that people don't always connect some of these fights to other things like environmental justice, to like health, and like food  access.  I think just like when it comes to queer liberation, it's like, thinking about the different ways that we are interconnected with each other, and finding ways to like celebrate, like, I don't know, how we all show up in the world, in ways that like challenge, narratives that have been pushed on us.


OJ: Thank you. I'm glad I asked you. Listening to your reflection on the connection between ecosystem health and queer liberation, I kind of tend to think of things like here's one vision of the world and then what does an alternative and sometimes like an opposite look like. And when I heard you say, we can celebrate a healthy ecosystem, we can celebrate each other, being able to be outside, be in nature. BE. And be safe as LGBTQ+ people. So the alternative that came to mind and the one that we're facing is one where Great Salt Lake is dying, where Great Salt Lake is diminished, and where also queer people are dying, where they're threatened, where they are displaced because of violence. And so I would love to just ask what you think about the connection between ecological collapse and violence against LGBTQ people? 


FN: Yeah, I guess, okay, so as you were saying some of these things, I think what came up for me is like, this concept in like, wildlife science or conservation science is like very much the valuing of biodiversity. But then also, like, in turn, like, in these spaces, where we're thinking about like, envisioning futures or envisioning new policies to protect people, are we giving the same sort of like value to diversity in like the voices, experiences, and people who are in the room making these decisions? And I think the answer has not always been yes. So I think collectively, society is shifting and realizing like, realizing like, oh, wow, maybe we should also value human diversity, as much as we might value diversity in, like the natural ecosystems. And so I think that concept probably isn't new to everybody. But definitely for decision makers, it is a new thing to consider, which is very unfortunate. But I think there's a lot of like queer people who are at the forefront of saying, like, we have had, like relationships to nature, to community, in ways that like, enhance and take care of our ecosystems. And we should be, like, paving the way essentially for imagining new futures.


OJ: Would you stay here in the community if Great Salt Lake died?


FN: Yeah, I think I would, because, like, I think my mom asked me, she's like, do you see yourself just like living here for like, an indefinite amount of time? And like, I told her, like, quite clearly like, yeah, like, I have been here long enough to, like, build community that like, nurtures me that I feel such great joy in knowing people in the community, like what's important to them, and having lots of people that care about me and that we care about the lake. And so I think also knowing that not all the people that I love here, like, have the resources to just suddenly be like, okay, the lake is dead, I'm gonna leave.


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FN: And so I think part of it is that I also wouldn't leave them, just like because it's easy. Just like I want to be here to make sure that I can continue building the community alongside people who are going to be here who care very much about people and the lake or what comes after. 


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OJ: On the next episode of Stay Salty, we’ll explore Great Salt Lake as a working waterscape and how the lake’s waters contribute to our global food system — from farming to brine shrimping. 


If you like what you’re hearing, leave us a review on Spotify or Apple Podcasts!


Stay Salty: Lakefacing Stories is an “Of Salt and Sand” production. We explore what it means to stay in Utah through economic transition and climate crisis by producing multimedia projects with, by, and for impacted communities. 


The Producers are Maria Archibald, Amelia Diehl, and Brooke Larsen. Podcast cover art is by Frances Ngo. Our Visual Director is Jeri Gravlin…. Ashley Finley and Katherine Quaid are our Event Curators. Music is by Amelia Diehl. We’re your hosts Olivia Juarez and Meisei Gonzales. 


This project is funded by grants, foundations, and listeners like you. You can find a list of major donors on our website. Learn more at lakefacing.org and follow us on instagram @OfSaltAndSand. 


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