Working for and writing about the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival and SHIFT conservation summit in the past few weeks has been an expansive and exhausting experience. It has expanded my horizons, making me feel like I am a part of something bigger; given me a new sense of pride in my profession; and reminded to be grateful that I belong to this community.
Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to create a new awareness within. Sometimes it is simply a time and place that allow your senses to awaken, to really listen to a perspective you’ve heard dozens of times before, to see things differently.
Working as a freelance writer alone at home, I had been in a cycle of depriving myself of sensory experiences. Like matter, which expands when it gets heated up and contracts when it gets cooled, my mind opened up as I watched more films and learned more about how to join the conservation movement. I met exceptional people doing exceptional work to raise awareness about endangered species all over the world and change the way we interact with the natural world in order to preserve it. People like Edward O. Wilson, a Pulitzer prize winning sociobiologist who has spent more than 80 years studying the littlest creatures on earth and making big strides in connecting those species to the larger picture.
Wilson said one of most important things we can do for the world is to persuade people to live in communities like Jackson where we are so close to nature that we are acutely aware of its importance to the future of our species. It is the small stuff that matters.
David Quammen, who wrote the upcoming National Geographic magazine issue on Yellowstone, said we are extremely lucky to live in one of the last nearly intact ecosystems on the planet. With moose grazing outside our bedroom windows, elk on the hillsides we pass on our daily commute and raptors circling above, the Jackson Hole experience is comparable to Africa, where humans and animals coexist like no other place on earth. No wonder some people call Jackson the Serengeti of America. We know our grizzly bears by name, or in the case of399 and 699, by number.
We have the unique opportunity to manage wildlife and wild lands like nowhere else in the world. Rising visitation to our national parks poses challenges, with greater odds for human animal conflicts. But it also provides an economic opportunity to create infrastructure that encourages conservation on a scale that matters – a global scale.
If we could teach all of the Chinese tourists who come to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks that we are losing 100 elephants a day due to ivory poaching maybe they would return home and tell others to stop buying ivory as a luxury item or healing agent. If we eat less meat and fish and stop buying junk food for backpacking trips, maybe we could reduce our impact on the oceans, reduce our carbon footprint, lower the amount of methane our animals are releasing into the air and send a message to the food industry to create more responsible food.
If you missed out on the flurry of events at the Center for the Arts in the last two weeks, I encourage you to do two things: watch the film Racing Extinction which will air on Discovery Dec. 2 and read the May issue of National Geographic. Learn more about this amazing place we call home, share it with the world and be grateful. I found that it was the filmmakers and conservationists who expressed the most gratitude who were most successful.