Top 5 Things Learned at the 2015 SHIFT Festival.

By Posted in - Green Events on November 1st, 2015 Grizzly in Yellowstone.

If ideas entered the skull like food enters the gut all of the participants at this year’s Shift Festival in Jackson, Wyoming would be suffering from brain flab. Collared shirts would feel tighter around the necks due to potbellied brainstems. The result from four days of idea-binging on everything from sustainability to outdoor codes and ethics to saving Canada’s Jumbo Valley.

1) Drop the Outdoor Bias

The Shift Festival shifted my opinions towards ATV riders. Prior to the festival I viewed them with the same disdain Las Vegas has towards subtly. Spying an ATV in the backcountry would render me more indignant than a Burning Man participant in view of a fire marshal.

Yes, it’s public land, I’d reason, but only for people on foot. And who are dressed in fleece. And who refer to drinking water as hydrating. And who don’t think Gore-Tex is an item on Taco Bell’s value menu. And…well, you get the drift.

In a nut, my view of public land was more exclusive than Montana’s Yellowstone Club. I, without realizing it, was a recreational bigot, prejudging people by their choice of coats: fleece good, camouflage bad.

But thanks to the shared insights of various attendees, many with governmental experience, I recognized the bugaboo in my bias.  Working with rather than against fellow outdoor enthusiasts creates a stronger voice in the defense of public lands. This means dropping the Edward Abbey mindset and focusing on commonalities rather than differences.

Yes, I may resent the intrusion of an ATV’s noise-brawl, but the four-wheel rider, like myself, recognizes the necessity of protecting open spaces.

2) Yvon Chouinard Who?

The Shift Festival’s showstoppers – writer David Quammen, food journalist, Mark Bittman, Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard – all delivered. But the event’s loudest ovation was reserved for the local farmers and ranchers – the unsung heroes of sustainability – who provided the food for the Festival’s People’s Banquet.

They were individually introduced on stage prior to Mark Bittman’s speech. Most looked as if they had just exited the field 10 minutes prior, resembling extras from a Dodge Ram Truck commercial. The sustained applause bordered on raucous. It was the Festival’s exclamation point moment.

3) Profits Trump Polar Bears

Focusing outdoor preservation campaigns around photos of polar bears, butterflies, and bald eagles won’t break, dent, or even scratch the conviction-shield of environmental adversaries. To bore through it dialogue must be economic focused. Talk profits and job growth. Avoid sentiment and emotions. Environmental-speak only calcifies the opposition.

Brad Peterson, Director of Utah’s Office of Outdoor Recreation, is walking proof. Upon taking the position naysayers warned him against pushing recreational development in Utah’s southwest corner. He would be received, he was told, like an electric shaver salesman would be to ISIS. Locals there view outdoor types with disdain, fearing mountain bikers and hikers will Frankenstein their towns into mini-Moabs.

But after presenting – not pushing – the economic benefits of bike paths, hiking trails, and the preservation of open spaces, he now has towns in southwest Utah calling him for advice and direction.

4) Charlie Hamilton James

National Geographic photographer Charlie Hamilton James is the Ansel Adams of nature photography. You could peg his work as staggering, startling, striking, stunning, stupefying, and superb and still fall 57 adjectives shy of properly describing. And as an audience-bonus the brilliance of his photos are matched by the brilliance of his wit

5) Know Your Bears

“Don’t worry,” I told Mooncut cofounder, Jen Lamboy, “it’s a black bear. It won’t charge.” Having repeatedly witnessed black bears padding across my Colorado cabin’s deck to jerk down hummingbird feeders somehow, in my mind, qualified me as a bear expert.  And so, with cameras in hand, we wandered into the meadow, just north of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful stadium-like parking lot.

Upon second glance, however, I realized it was not a black bear, but a grizzly. Big difference. In terms of safety wandering into a meadow with a grizzly was on par with attending the Sturgis Bike Rally wearing a “Harley Davidson Sucks” t-shirt.

Fortunately, the grizzly did not feel threatened. Which was good. Given my outdoor upbringing I don’t think my 92 year old father could have accepted the indignity of having a son bearing a Darwin Award.

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