On Winning a SHIFT Award

On Friday night, Powderhook was awarded the 2017 SHIFT Award for Technology. It’s exciting to be recognized, and knowing what our team has gone through to deliver said technology, I think this award is something to be proud of.

SHIFT is a festival (conference) filled with conservation-minded thinkers and doers. While attending, I learned a lot, and I thought I’d use this opportunity to share some of the more prescient tidbits with you.

  1. The outdoor industry has what appears to be two completely separate “sides.” To put it bluntly, there seems to be the politically progressive version of conservation, led by brands like Patagonia and organizations like the Sierra Club, and the politically conservative version of conservation, led by brands like Bass Pro Shops and organizations like the National Wild Turkey Federation. If my observation is true, I can’t even begin to describe to you how big of a waste this is. The SHIFT Festival was dominated by progressive-leaning people and organizations. That they chose Powderhook as an honoree tells me there is at least some appetite to work together more closely.

    The author participates in a panel discussing growing hunting among urban-dwelling participants.
  2. The two sides use almost the same language and want many of the same things. Common ground topics include our love of public land, our desire for healthy ecosystems, our need for clean air and water, and our enjoyment of and desire to conserve wild places for wild animals. Political hot-button topics such as climate change, global warming, herd management (population control), and guns rights divide us in avoidable ways. Can’t we stop focusing on these big political issues and start talking more about the stuff we can individually do something about? Conservation’s message is most compelling when it affects the places people recreate. Let’s start bridging the gap by focusing on local parks, green spaces, access programs, habitat projects, and experience-driven events.
  3. Progressive-leaning conservationists need to consider helping create an excise tax on the gear they use, like the conservative-leaning organizations helped create in the Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson Acts. They need to find ways to fund local work without having to win ballot initiatives, and without relying on massive donors. And, they need to consider hunting and fishing access foundational to their view of a successful conservation project.
  4. Conservative-leaning conservation groups need to learn from progressive-leaning groups in how they include new people and ideas, value change, attract stakeholders in urban areas, and strategically diversify their constituencies. And, boy, could we learn how to tell our story from these groups. The new economy is about gaining and keeping people’s attention – to do that we need to connect with people on a more emotional, less “science-and-numbers-driven” story arc.
Former National Parks Director, Jon Jarvis, presenting his keynote “A Unified Vision for Conservation” at the SHIFT Festival in Jackson Hole, Wy.

The above slide was taken from a SHIFT keynote given by Jon Jarvis, former Director of the National Park Service. His presentation was entitled, “A Unified Vision for Conservation.” Mr. Jarvis has started an institute to teach his vision at the University of California at Berkeley. Do you notice what’s missing? I did, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since. Organizations and professionals from the fish and wildlife community, along with recreational users (hunters/anglers/hikers/climbers/campers, etc.) have a massive influence on conservation, yet they were nowhere to be found in this presentation. He called their absence, “an oversight.” Maybe that’s what it was, but this slide clearly says to me that conservative-leaning conservation organizations badly need to exit their echo chamber and get busy building bridges.

Photo credits: Powderhook

Tackling SHIFT

I was the new guy… the one in the orange hat. For the first time in awhile, I knew almost no one walking into a conference the size of SHIFT.

SHIFT is an annual gathering of conservation-minded leaders from around the country. They gather in Jackson, Wyoming each year to tackle tough issues. In ways I’ve never been part of before in the outdoor industry, they work to build bridges across political and ideological lines – though it helps that the topic of this year’s SHIFT was Preserving our Public Lands, an issue that unites nearly every conservationist.

There are around 350 people here, and on the surface, you could draw the conclusion that many are “anti-hunting” or at a minimum, “hunting agnostic.” But, time and time again we’ve had great conversations about the role hunting plays in conservation. We’ve discussed what it really means to be a hunter, we’ve spoken about the threats a declining hunting population poses to the source of many of their budgets. I’ve explained the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation at least a dozen times to people who make their living in conservation. Almost every conservation has been concluded with positive takeaways.

Representatives from Sitka, First Lite, Patagonia, and REI are pictured here on the same stage talking about conservation advocacy from a brand perspective. Despite being very different, the need to protect public lands unites these brands. SHIFT leadership seems to have gone out of their way all week to introduce hunting, talk about hunting, feature hunting, and show the hunting community they’re welcome.

There is very little camo here, and perhaps because of that, some really cool things happened. Here are some examples.

Upon my arrival, I sat with two women from Boulder, Colorado who described themselves as “not-anti-hunting, but definitely not hunters.” They asked questions. “Does the NRA represent all hunters? Do hunters realize the image they’re portraying to people like us when they brag about the size of the deer they shoot? I hear hunters care about conservation, but I totally don’t get how that can be true.”

Later on the first day, I was at a table discussion with a woman whom I think would consider herself “anti-hunting.” She voluntarily takes Hispanic families in the Pacific Northwest on outdoor adventures. And, she recently took a job with the Sierra Club. I came away thinking she was brilliant. She articulately shared her concerns, and we concluded that her perceptions of hunting and her concerns about hunting aren’t incorrect, but that perhaps they fall short of the whole story. Like nearly everyone I spoke with this week, I found her open-minded and willing to have a real conversation. I didn’t get the impression she’d ever personally become a hunter, but I absolutely believe she thinks of hunting differently than she did when she arrived in Jackson.

A man who works for the Wilderness Society went out of his way on a couple occasions to seek out a conversation with me. He was eager to tell me the Wilderness Society is absolutely inclusive of hunters. Though he doesn’t hunt, he wanted me to know that he feels his organization does important work that hunters don’t know about or give them credit for.

I heard an elk hunting story –  a real, not-everything-goes-as-planned, pull-no-punches hunting story from a woman leading a new woman’s hunting organization from the National Wildlife Federation, called Artemis. It brought me to tears because I could relate, and it made me so happy SHIFT included her story in their event. For some of the over 150+ people in the room, I imagined it to be one of the first authentic hunting stories they’d ever listened to. There was some uneasiness as Iooked around, but as the storyteller said, “to a fault, we hunters tend to hide the feeling in our stories.”

I learned that diversity in the outdoor industry is actually a thing. There were brown people here – hunters, campers, hikers, climbers, bikers, and leaders. It was so refreshing to hear their perspective and to enter thoughtful conversations on hard topics with them. A woman from Japan taught us a Japanese gesture of reverence before a meal. It’s pronounced, “Ita-daki-mas” and there are no direct English translations, though it loosely translates to “I’m taking, and I don’t take it for granted.” As she described the word in English she perfectly narrated the way many hunters feel after they shoot a big game animal.

My notes from the conference are as follows:

  • General
    • If we want to grow hunting, people participating in other forms of outdoor recreation are a great place to start. But, they often don’t think about it the way a traditional hunter might.
    • We need to invite people who think differently to attend our hunting industry conferences. There are hundreds of them here. REI has 16 million members… just saying.
    • Individuals inviting people is the only way we’ll create new hunters at scale.
    • A yoga instructor told me hunting was just like yoga for her – meditation and relaxation. Haven’t heard that before…
    • The Emerging Leaders program at SHIFT is something many other organizations and conferences need to think about replicating. They added a lot of energy, good ideas, and unique perspectives.
  • On appealing to urban residents
    • Make them aware they own 640 million acres of public land
    • You gotta invite the family unit
    • Treat urban access, likes parks and ponds like it’s part of nature
    • Hunting dogs are a tremendous tool for appealing to urban youth.
    • Inviting a young person from an urban family to do something once is a waste of money unless you invite their family or someone else who can help them go again
    • Local protein has near-universal appeal
    • You  can’t say you want people of color involved, you have to go to where they’re at with opportunities designed around their lives
    • All 4th-graders in the US Public School System got a free public lands and parks access pass – but I’ve never heard anyone talk about it – this is a great place to start a conversation with the family
    • Many Latino people love the outdoors, but they’re scared to death of the government. Making them enter their social security number to get a license all but prevents them from doing it – a cultural truth for Latino people. Begs the question, why do we need a social security number to get a fishing/hunting license?
    • Food sovereignty is a term I hadn’t heard before – and one that means a lot to lower-income urban residents. It’s the root of things like community gardens – and could be the basis for recruiting more hunters from urban areas
  • On bridging the gap between left and right-leaning conservation organizations
    • Avoid trigger words/phrases like global warming, herd management, long-range shooting, etc.
    • We need to invite people who don’t look and think like us to our conferences.
    • Focus on what makes us similar – love of public lands, clean air and water, wild animals, wild places and most certainly FOOD
    • Ask more questions than you make statements
    • Hunters need to know that what they put on social media informs the opinion of people who don’t hunt and/or don’t like hunting – be thoughtful about what and how you share
    • Many environmentalists I spoke with talked about their respect for how well hunters know the animals they pursue and the land on which they hunt – What do we hunters respect about environmentalists?
      • Many are really tuned into the political issues.
      • Many use emotion in their stories I seldom hear from hunters.
      • Many are intentional about inclusion and diversity.

It was good to see fellow hunting brands like Sitka, First Lite, and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in attendance. It would be a good thing for that list to grow.

PS – Remember the name, Robbie Bond. He’s 10, and he’s gonna be the face of conservation in this country inside of a year. You heard it here first!

Photo: Courtesy – Jared Frasier – 2% for Conservation

Photo: Courtesy – SHIFT