It was a commemorative start to Wednesday’s Mammoth Lakes Town Council meeting, with the announcement and recognition of the Spirit of Mammoth Award, conferred annually upon the individual with contributions most outstanding in the community. The bestowing of the honor marked John Wentworth’s final act in his term as mayor before turning the gavel over to Bill Sauser.
Janet Hatfield—Forest Resilience Program Manager for the Whitebark Institute of Interdisciplinary Environmental Science—is the 2023 recipient.
“I first met Janet Hatfield… with some colleagues she pulled up from Inyo National Forest,” remembered Mayor Wentworth. “Her advice to the Council—to the community—was that we need to save ourselves from the threat of catastrophic wildfire.”
Mayor Wentworth and Hatfield had previously worked together to draft a sustainable recreation and ecosystem management program for the Eastern Sierra Council of Governments. According to the mayor, it was the first program of its kind to be approved by all four regional partners. Hatfield was responsible for securing a multi-million dollar grant in order to facilitate the management program in Mammoth Lakes.
“While the definition of the Spirit of Mammoth Lakes is elusive, and should probably remain that way,” remarked Mayor Wentworth, “I can’t think of a more deserving or more appropriate embodiment of the Spirit of Mammoth Lakes than Janet Hatfield.”
Hatfield’s distinction tied in well with policy matters discussed at Wednesday night’s meeting.
Town Manager, Dan Holler, kicked off the discussion of the Eastern Sierra Climate and Communities Resilience Project (ESCCRP) ongoing wildfire fuel reduction project, of which the Whitebark Institute is a key collaborator.
“What was requested here was to provide a formal comment from the Town on the environmental assessment process” said Holler.
Holler explained the two key tenets of the drafted letter—indicating support for the project, and addressing concerns related to its impact on recreational amenities and potential work to inventory roadless areas. Holler noted the importance of ensuring the environmental assessment process moves forward smoothly, as its completion is crucial for securing funding and implementing the necessary work. The importance of differentiating between federal and non-federal land areas was underscored.
Holler also put forward an additional request for a separate motion concerning state documents related to wildfire and sustainable recreation.
“Having those documents as a reference in supporting the EA [environmental assessment] could be very beneficial.”
The acknowledgment that forest treatment involves more than just controlled burns became a focal point of the Council’s discussion. Mayor Wentworth expressed a desire to broaden the scope of landscape preparation beyond the reintroduction of “beneficial fire,” advocating for a holistic approach to creating a healthy and sustainable forest.
Fire Chief Ales Tomaier expressed support for the project, emphasizing the importance of maintaining the Intermountain Recreation Association (IRA) work, particularly in areas like the Sherwins and Lakes Basin.
Tomaier seconded the importance of a holistic strategy to fire protection, as introduced by Mayor Wentworth.
“Obviously, fire doesn’t see any boundaries,” said Tomaier. “This letter looks fantastic, so I appreciate the Town’s support on this.”
The Council motioned, and unanimously approved, the submission of public comments supporting the Eastern Sierra Climate Resilience Project, voiced in the letter, as written.
The meeting includes a motion for the council to approve the submission of public comments supporting the Eastern Sierra climate resilience project. The motion is clarified to refer specifically to presenting the letter as written. The council members unanimously approve the deliberations.
At Holler’s behest, Council shifted its focus to center on the town’s collaboration with Whitebark in integrating sustainable outdoor recreation practices and infrastructure within the project.
Mayor Wentworth subsequently proposed a separate motion, suggesting the Town submit “California’s Joint Strategy for Sustainable Outdoor Recreation and Wildfire Resilience” as a reference document to the EA.
On behalf of the Whitebark Institute, Hatfield commended the proposal for both providing a critical framework for understanding the importance of recreation within the larger context of wildfire resilience, and acknowledging the potential disruptions to recreation while the fuel reduction work is underway. The Spirit of Mammoth Award Recipient underscored the value of Mammoth Lakes acting as a paragon for potential county-wide and region-wide initiatives.
Again, the motion was unanimously approved.
The approval of the document, in conjunction with Hatfield’s commendation, signals the Council’s collective support for both the ESCCRP’s efforts, and those members of the community most devoted to environmental stewardship.
Mayor Wentworth wrapped up his speech, honoring Hatfield, by extolling the merits of mission-based action.
“Janet and the Whitebark’s vision is much larger than our public community… [it’s] a mission to take action, cultivate partnerships, and empower communities to create and sustain resilient landscapes for future generations,” said Mayor Wentworth, in his speech honoring Hatfield. “By honoring Janet, we honor everything and everybody that comes in her great wake.”
“It’s a privilege to do this work in such a beautiful place,” said Hatfield, upon receiving her award. “It’s also, at times, a real burden because it feels like you’re racing against the clock. So this award is really meant for the whole team of folks that came to the table despite all the odds that were stacked against us.”