Conserving American wild lands takes more than money

A recap of the Conservation Alliance breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014.

Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 6 – 9. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Americans have had an on-again, off-again romance with wilderness, author Gary Ferguson said at the Conservation Alliance Breakfast, headlined, “The Wilderness Act at 50 – Reviving an American Love Affair.” Wild lands are central to the American national identity and inspirational for the concept of democracy, wilderness being the great equalizer, but Americans have clear-cut forests and sprayed a billion pounds of DDT in a decade.

That tumultuous history of both infatuation with and ignorance of wild lands on the part of the American public included a will to protect wild lands and the near-unanimous congressional passage (an unthinkable feat now) of the Wilderness Act, which provides the greatest level of protections for wild lands.

Gary Ferguson was the keynote speaker at the Conservation Alliance Breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014.

Gary Ferguson was the keynote speaker at the Conservation Alliance Breakfast at Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2014.

We’re on the edge of waking up to our need and love for them again, Ferguson said, making the work done by the Conservation Alliance all the more important.

“The desire to do the right thing — and I’m thinking of climate change now — the desire comes much more from the fact of people falling in love with nature again,” Ferguson told a standing-room-only crowd.

The Conservation Alliance started the celebrations for its 25th anniversary Thursday morning. The organization, which was created by four outdoor gear companies and adds new partners each year, has given more than $13 million in grant money to local campaigns to protect threatened wild lands since its inception.

“I think our greatest accomplishment as an organization has been to bring together companies large and small to do more than they could do alone,” said John Sterling, executive director of Conservation Alliance.

Their work has led to the protection of 42 million acres of wild lands, 2,825 river miles and five marine reserves, in addition to the purchase of nine climbing areas and removal or prevention of 26 dams. Among the organization’s recent victories is the designation of the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument in May.

The winter 2014 funding cycle finished with contributions of $750,000 to 22 organizations as part of an expected record-setting spending for the year of $1.65 million in grants.

At the breakfast, the Conservation Alliance announced eight new members: Bergans of Norway, Elevation Outdoors Magazine, GU Energy Labs, Outdoor Specialty Group, the Wildland Trekking Company,, Packsafe and Peter McBride Productions.

The Conservation 2014 Outstanding Partnership Awards went to Eagles Nest for its work protecting wild lands in North Carolina and Tennessee, the Forest Group for its efforts with conservation of the American River in California, and Black Diamond for advocacy on behalf of red rock wilderness areas in Utah, where the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance was able to protect a section of the San Rafael Swell from oil and gas development.

“Now is a crucial time for protecting the last great wild places,” said Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond, in his comments following the announcement. Saving those places will require re-engaging outdoor industry leaders with policymakers. Metcalf said, “We can make a difference, but we need to have advocacy to match heartfelt donations with our money.”

--Elizabeth Miller