Last month, High Country News published an article that posited an interesting thesis; that there might not be a link between outdoor recreation and conservation. Or, as the author titled it “Your stoke won’t save us”. The piece has created some waves in our little world at the intersect of environmental conservation and public lands, as well as the outdoor industry as a whole. The article landed in my e-mail inbox a total of six times, made the rounds of social media, and even prompted a dissenting follow up letter published in this month’s HCN.
These pieces come at a time when our public lands see more recreational use than ever before. The reasons are many, from a growing population to mass and widespread information about how to recreate in beautiful places a simple tap of the smartphone away. As an organization committed to the well being of the ecosystems and wildlife of the Eastern Sierra’s public lands, this is both an opportunity and a struggle. There is no way around it; more people recreating on the land means more degradation of the land. The hope was always that this would be offset by the visitors being inspired by the sunset views, the ice-cold stream baths, the chance to gather ’round a campfire enough to become active in the conservation of these places and experiences. But how do we bridge that gap, from recreation to conservation?
May I present Friends of the Inyo as an option? Our outings get people to the places that inspire awe. Through our stewardship events, people get their hands dirty giving back to the land. And our policy work empowers the public to be a part of their land management through comment letters, phone calls to representatives, and attending public meetings.
Ultimately, I think both authors brought something to the table. As usual, the answer we’re looking for lies somewhere in the middle, in the grey-hued nuance of life. We can’t rely on exuberance for the outdoors to save the outdoors in and of itself. And perhaps outdoor gear companies should refrain from commodifying our wild and open spaces–and the stoke and awe they inspire–in their advertisements for a quick buck. But the hard, necessary work of environmental conservation sits on a bedrock of awe and excitement for all the natural world provides to us human beings. Whether you see it as stoke, or a call to protect what you hold dear, I’m not quite sure it matters what motivates you to champion the wild places still left. I for one am tickled every day that I get to come to work for an organization that is taking that stoke and turning into tangible, real work for the health and well being of our Eastern Sierra public lands.
Communications & Outreach Manager