Find your activist roots: Terry Tempest Williams on protecting parks

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At the OIA Industry Breakfast, an emotional Terry Tempest Williams urged meaningful action to commemorate the National Parks Centennial

Over the next several weeks, we'll be publishing articles from Outdoor Retailer Daily Winter Market 2016. This article can be found on page 11 of the Day 2 issue

Terry Tempest Williams speaks at the OIA Industry Breakfast Jan. 8. Photo by Emma Light

Terry Tempest Williams speaks at the OIA Industry Breakfast Jan. 8. Photo by Emma Light

When the fog lifted from Yellowstone’s Lamar Valley the morning Terry Tempest Williams and her husband went there to mark their 40th wedding anniversary, they watched a wolf crawl into the mostly emptied frame of a bison to feed on the remaining meat. Then a line of bison walked single-file to the carcass, circled her, nudged her and then, as though having paid their respects, walked on.

“We are not the only animals who understand love and loss. We are not the only animals who inhabit this beautiful, broken world. We are not the center of the universe,” Williams said during the OIA Industry Breakfast Jan. 8.

Her comments began and ended with an emotional testament, first with gratitude for her audience, then imploring them to make the most of their power and love for the outdoors to protect these places.

“It is not enough to see these lands as portals to recreation and retail, commodities and commerce, but the open door to awe and wonder and acts of the imagination that create hope for humanity, not just the isolation and promotion of the individual,” she said.

Though she gave a nod to those in political stations who attended, including Utah Congressional candidate Doug Owens, White House Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss and National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis, the task of saving these lands, she said, ultimately falls to us.

“Our institutions and agencies are no longer working for us. It’s time to reimagine the wilderness movement as a movement of direct action,” she said, suggesting education and support for acts of protest and civil disobedience. “If I could have one wish on this day, it would be this: that we find our activist roots, that you in this industry put protection over profit because in your heart you know it’s the same thing.”

She cited Jarvis, who has called climate change “the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced,” as well as biologist E.O. Wilson, who contends that if we are to survive as a species, half of the earth must be set aside for conservation. And in case there was any doubt in the capacity of the outdoor industry, she pointed to its previous successes. For example: Castle Valley, where she lives in Utah, was spared oil and gas development after organizations including the Access Fund and The Conservation Alliance intervened on behalf of the area, home to the iconic Castleton Tower and the Priest.

“We need you. The world needs you. Especially to the next generation, we need you. The outdoor retail industry needs to return to its roots,” she said.

Her latest book, Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks, tours 12 national parks, from Grand Teton to the Gulf Islands National Seashore to the newly designated César Chávez National Monument.

“I thought this would be a straightforward book, but what I realized is I had taken on writing a book about America, our shadows, our cruelties, our greatness of spirit and our light,” she said. “Our public lands, our national parks and monuments, wildlife refuges and wilderness areas are all part of the open space of democracy. It is our natural inheritance as American citizens. We have arrived at the hour of land. The time has come for acts of reference and restraint, boldness and bravery on behalf of the earth. If we cannot commit to this kind of fundamental shift, then democracy becomes another myth.”

The audience also heard comments from OIA about adopting the Sustainable Apparel Commission’s Higg Index and a proposal to rename the new future leadership academy as the Skip Yowell Academy. OIA also debuted Parks4Kids, a program where schools and youth organizations can post proposed projects to take kids into parks and receive crowdfunded money to make them happen. The Parks4Kids.info website launched just weeks ago and already has 150 projects posted. It runs as a complement to the Every Kid in a Park Campaign that gives fourth graders free passes to parks and is aimed at sustaining that program beyond Obama’s time in office.

The National Park Service Centennial is a time to celebrate, Jarvis said, but added, “It’s also more important I think, and an imperative to engage the next generation, to create that constituency of support that we are all going to need.”

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