By Jessie Wiese EBS Contributor
JACKSON, Wyo. – A diverse crowd of outdoor stakeholders gathered in Jackson, Wyo.’s Center for the Arts from Oct. 7-10 to discuss the importance of conservation work at the third annual SHIFT Festival.
Christian Beckwith, the director of SHIFT, introduced the conference on Thursday explaining that participants would not only contribute to creative solutions to major issues impacting our time – such as climate change and access to nature – but would also hear from world-renowned industry leaders. Beckwith emphasized the importance of decision-making guided by science rather than emotions or economics.
SHIFT was organized around three themes: conservation leadership, responsible recreation and outdoor access. Several panel discussions focused on these pillars, and panelists discussed everything from a lack of inner city access points to nature, to the continued growth and urbanization of the American West.
“Eighty-five percent of the population in America is urban and the conservation movement is aging, [and] not evolving as quickly as other movements across the U.S. … such as technology,” said Luther Prost, founder of the conservation organization Sonoran Institute, and chair of the Outdoor Alliance.
Panelists representing the U.S. Forest Service explained that 52 percent of the agency’s annual budget is now being spent to fight wildfires, resulting in severe cuts to its other programs, especially recreational trails.
On Friday, author and journalist David Quammen teamed up with National Geographic magazine photographer Charlie Hamilton James to describe the state of Yellowstone National Park. The two are collaborating for the magazine’s November 2015 Yellowstone issue, which will be entirely dedicated to the park.
“Yellowstone National Park is in better condition now than it has been in 143 years,” Quammen said. “But [it] is incrementally affected through 10,000 scratches, some of which are climate change, invasive species and record visitor numbers.”
With record numbers of Americans traveling to national parks and 73.9 million international visitors a year, SHIFT panelists discussed ways to pay for these impacts, and to improve access and condition of these lands. Peter Metcalf, president of outdoor gear company Black Diamond Equipment, had a few ideas.
“User fees at national parks could be continued for those past the age of 62, to allow the baby boomer generation to continue to pay until they are 75,” Metcalf said. “A group like the Civilian Conservation Corps could also be very helpful.”
Friday closed with a banquet where the theme turned from public lands to sustainable agricultural practices. Several local food vendors and producers were present, discussing the goal of reducing reliance on non-local food production since Jackson – as well as Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks – is seeing record numbers of visitors.
Mark Bittman, a journalist, food writer, and author of 16 books, delved into the political and personal food choices individuals can make to shift ecological and personal health.
“Ninety percent of disease is chronic not genetic, and 40-80 percent of what we see in the grocery store does not meet the definition of food in the dictionary,” Bittman said. A keynote panel with Bittman and Yvon Chouinard, founder of outdoor apparel company Patagonia, discussed the importance of eating plant-based foods and knowing how and where it’s grown.
Saturday involved a morning of outdoor stewardship and service on several projects in the Jackson area and ended with Chouinard facilitating screenings of innovative, conservation-based films.
Stacy Bare, a veteran Army civil affairs team leader, North Face athlete and National Geographic Adventurer of the Year recipient, spoke about conserving the wild places we love.
“We need to fight for a cause, not against others’ efforts,” Bare said, “and see this movement as a fight from love, where victory is not the goal, but [rather] continual improvement.”