NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Fire Stinks, but Brings Life

With the smoky skies looming over us for such an extended period of time this summer, we cannot ignore the visual impacts of fire.  Without a doubt, fire can be and is destructive when unexpected or not well managed.  However, in the midst of the smoke and haze, it does our souls good to think about what comes after the fire.

Fire is a natural component in nature and is important in many ecosystems.  Ecosystems include living things like plants and animals, plus non-living things like rocks.  Ecology is the study of how the living and non-living interact.  Fire Ecology is the scientific discipline that investigates the natural processes and interactions involving fire and an ecosystem.   Fire Ecologists give us good insights into the positive impacts of fire.

Like our closets, forests have a way of collecting clutter over time.  Old logs, dense undergrowth, and fallen leaves tend to accumulate on forest floors.  There may also be invasive weeds, insects, and disease in a forest.  After a fire, this clutter is removed and broken down into important nutrients resulting in a rich forest floor soil that is ripe for microbial life and regrowth.  

Fireweed in a burned section on the Seven Devils Loop in Idaho, 2019 

                                                         Photo Credit: Brandolyn Thran

Sunlight is often blocked by the forest canopy, which may result in a shift in plant species over time.  Nature is highly competitive, and shade intolerant plants cannot outcompete shade tolerant plants.  After the fire, sunlight streams into the forest floor allowing shade intolerant species a chance to thrive once again.  The inundation of sunlight is also helpful for saplings (young trees) to become established. 

While we picture complete destruction in our minds, and it may appear so from first glance, fires usually do not wipe out a forest, but instead burn in a patchwork pattern.  Naturally occurring moist spots become a source of resupply for seeds and a refuge for surviving animals. 

Regrowth begins soon after a fire passes through an area.  Fireweed quickly brings a beautiful sight of color back to the grey landscape.  Wildflowers and other fast-germinating plants return first.  Later, shoots regrow from stumps and stalks that were protected from the fire by bark or soil. 

We can learn a lot from Fire Ecology and Fire Science (study of fire behavior).  A well-managed burn with controlled temperatures may be a feasible approach to help reduce the risk of a more damaging and severe fires, in particular ecosystems.  Mother Nature uses fire as a mechanism important in sustaining ecosystems, and human interference with that cycle may have impacts that are unexpected and monumental.  That is why it is important to respect and not play with fire.

Like the song goes, there is a time for everything, and sometimes that means fire.  It is hard to see the destruction in your beloved spot, but rest your mind and trust that Mother Nature will adapt and out of the ash life will emerge.  Get outside and watch for the evidence of life in your favorite spot. 



Thursday, August 12, 2021

Outside Guide: Our Choices Matter - Outdoor Ethics

 In northern Nevada, we live in a beautiful place where many of us spend a lot of time outdoors.  We are fortunate to have open space, however, that does not mean that we do not share this space with many others.  Unfortunately, the evidence that it is a shared space usually comes in the form of some sort of trash.  After driving or hiking for miles out into the desert, which feels like the middle of nowhere and you must be the first person to have found this location, you open your car door to step out or sit down on a rock and release your backpack straps, only to look down and find a plastic water bottle, bottle caps, cigarette butts, or dog poop, at your feet.  The unquenchable adventurer in you dies just a little bit as you realize you were not the first human here, and then in the next heartbeat your blood boils as you ask yourself “why do people choose to leave their trash behind?”

The choice to pick up and pack out trash is rooted in an ethical perspective that to preserve natural beauty and minimize negative human impacts on other facets of nature, we must believe our actions have consequences and that we can (positively and negatively) impact our environment.  While every human is dependent on the resources provided by the earth for survival (shelter, air, food, and water), we do not all share the same knowledge or awareness regarding how our actions impact the earth, therefore our outdoor ethics (or behavior choices) span a wide spectrum.  

Two of the most well-known providers and authorities on Outdoor Ethics are Tread Lightly! and The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.  Each of these organizations have responsible outdoor recreation principles that serve to bring awareness, educate, and prompt positive behaviors for minimizing negative impacts to nature.  Nevada Outdoor School is trained in these programs and frequently provides trainings and utilizes many of their resources to reach adults and kids in northern Nevada. 

Nevada Outdoor School strives to incorporate outdoor ethics education into all our programs as we inspire exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat, and dedication to community.  To us, that means encouraging people to analyze their actions, evaluate how those actions positively and negatively impact the natural world and then choose wisely to positively impact the natural world and reduce negative impacts whenever possible.  We are excited to implement our newly developed outdoor ethic model called Action. Impact. Choice., or the A.I.C. Model, during the upcoming school year and beyond.  The power of analyzing your actions, evaluating the impact, and choosing wisely is that it is not only applicable to outdoor recreation scenarios, but also to dealing with friends, family members, and colleagues.  Your choices matter, no matter where you are or who you are surrounded by.  This is an outdoor ethic and cultural ethic that Nevada Outdoor School believes in. 

Recently, while hiking in Lamoille Canyon, it was evident that many people were choosing not to pick up their dog poop.  Gross.  The action of not picking up dog poop has impacts.  The obvious impact of stepping in it is real, but so are the less observable potential health risks, for example, what happens when the rain washes the microorganisms in that poop into the nearby stream?  When we are explicitly taught about and encouraged to consider the impacts our actions have, we can make better choices. The A.I.C. Model, and outdoor ethics, are less about overly simplistic dualistic thinking (right versus wrong), and more about considering options and choosing the behavior that has the least negative impact on the natural world, for a given situation.  One size does not fit all in life. 

Get outside and practice applying and learning from the A.I.C. Model.   Think about or analyze your actions.  Evaluate the impacts (positive and negative) each action will have.  Choose the action that will result in a positive impact or minimizes negative impacts when possible.  With awareness and education, you may find that like you as an organism, your behavior and choices evolve over time.  Want more information or a local training on outdoor ethics for your family or group?  Visit to learn more about upcoming opportunities.