Day Three of our Western Media Summit
Just as the sun was rising over the Gallatin Range, more than four dozen guests at TRCP’s Western Media Summit left Bozeman and drove southeast to the Yellowstone River for a morning of flyfishing on the final day of the conference. Eighteen guides piloted boats down the river, as anglers caught (and released) rainbows, browns, cutthroats, and whitefish, and the temperature climbed from the 50s into the 70s. As guests got to know their guides, and each other, the experience helped to put a personal face on the connection between access to these iconic public lands and waters and the businesses that rely on them: the sandwich shop where the guides bought guest lunches, the gas station where they fill up their trucks, the outfitter that books their services, the fly shop where they get their gear, and even the guy who shuttles their trucks and trailers the seven miles from the put-in to where they take their boats off the river.
After four hours of fishing, and with a few new tan lines, the group then gathered at the Bozeman offices of SITKA Gear for an afternoon of discussion. Led by a panel of four media professionals, and moderated by Outdoor Life Editor-in-Chief Andrew McKean, a conversation about reassessing the role of the conservation reporter got everyone in the room involved. Panelists examined how outdoor writing and conservation coverage is faring with shrinking newsrooms, thinning publications, and, perhaps, an increasingly selective pool of readers who have the content they want at their fingertips, whenever and wherever they want it. McKean asked the room if the outdoor media is partly responsible for creating a divide between “environmentalists” and “conservationists.” Gray Thornton of the Wild Sheep Foundation questioned whether sportsmen can reclaim the latter title, which many felt we have lost. Brett French, outdoor editor for the Billings Gazette, confessed that he felt like an endangered species—his role has become quite rare for the average daily newspaper. There was also some discussion of the partisan politics of conservation stories, and whether the potential for dissention among readers, publishers, or lawmakers makes telling these stories a risky proposition. Overall, journalists seemed to agree that immersive experiences, like the media summit, re-energize them to cover conservation—politics and all.
The second panel discussion focused on the potential endangered species listing and controversial restoration strategies currently under review for the greater sage-grouse. Jim Lyons, the deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior, Tim Baker from the Montana Governor’s Office, and Rolling Stone Ranch Owner Jim Stone addressed the group with a timely update on the flurry of activity around the iconic game species. There are just 63 days until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s court-ordered deadline for determining whether or not the bird requires protection under the Endangered Species Act, and the panel was held on the same day as the deadline for state Governors to file their protests against BLM land management plans to benefit the birds in 10 Western states. TRCP’s senior scientist Dr. Ed Arnett led the discussion, pointing out that sage grouse conservation and the public lands transfer movement share a common thread: Critics are capitalizing on the discontent of sportsmen with the way federal land management is being done, but it’s not as simple as having state’s take over management. It will be necessary to have federal, state, and volunteer conservation efforts working in concert to avoid a listing, and it will be necessary for sportsmen to engage in a conversation around solutions to federal land management issues so we don’t lose those lands forever.
Following the sage-grouse panel, David Brinker, marketing director for SITKA Gear, welcomed the journalists to his company’s headquarters and explained how SITKA’s passion for conservation led them become a founding member of the nonprofit One Percent for Conservation. The initiative was created by SITKA staffer Jeff Sposito to enlist retailers and small businesses in the sporting community that are not required to contribute Pittman-Robertson excise taxes toward conservation efforts, hunter’s education, or shooting programs, and facilitate the donation of one percent of their profits to a hunting-related cause of their choice. The effort will be officially launched this winter.
Guests then filtered downstairs to the other half of the refurbished industrial warehouse to enjoy cocktails, pizza, Italian desserts, and a powerful speech by Shane Mahoney. The CEO of Conservation Visions, Inc., is also a filmmaker, writer, and TV personality with 30 years of experience in science, wildlife management, and policy innovation in the U.S. and Canada. He gravely told the group that we have much work to do to protect our great sporting traditions, public land and water resources, and health of all species. “Wildlife are a democratic resource. It is something to inspire us. It is something to give us joy. It is not some side show,” he said. His remarks received a standing ovation from the crowd.