SHIFT Retreat Explores Ways Outdoor Rec Can Help Public Lands


Jose Gonzalez, Founder of Latino Outdoors, and Ryan Dunfee, Managing Editor of Teton Gravity Research, note their points at SHIFT’s Spring Retreat while Meryl Harrel, Senior Advisor, Natural Resources and Environment, U.S. Department of Agriculture, looks on. Photo: Ben Johnson

SHIFT leverages outdoor recreation for conservation gains. Its goal is to help advance the collective agenda of its stakeholder coalition, an alliance of the outdoor recreation, conservation, land management, youth engagement and outdoor media communities.

From May 19-20, at the Murie Center in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming, SHIFT convened a retreat of thought-leaders from these communities to determine how best to advance this agenda as it related to three constituent priorities: the public land seizure movement; funding for public lands; and next generation engagement and cultural relevancy. A complete summary of the retreat may be found here. Key outcomes are as follows.

SHIFT’s Niche

Participants agreed that SHIFT’s substantive focus exists at the intersection of recreation, conservation and diversity, equity and inclusion (“DEI”). At the intersection of the three sectors is connecting people and place—a recognition that at its core, these groups are united by the need for access to public, outdoor places. SHIFT’s capacity to bring together existing initiatives, groups, and networks that are all working on similar issues but might otherwise operate independently is unique and valuable because it promotes greater information sharing and improved coordination among natural allies, which in turn results in a more unified movement for the protection and celebration of our public lands.


Participants at the Retreat, held at the historic Murie Center, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. Photo: Ben Johnson

SHIFT’s value is amplified because it brings two additional distinct audiences to the conversation: Media, via the Outdoor Blogger Summit; and Outdoor Industry. Media has the power to amplify the messages and outcomes from the conversation; it is also notably well-positioned to support the type of effective storytelling that will advance work at the nexus of recreation, DEI and conservation. SHIFT adds additional value by providing nonprofits and private businesses from the outdoor recreation industry an opportunity to effectively engage in efforts that affect its collective future. By integrating young people of color and millennials, urban and otherwise, into the coalition’s work in substantive and meaningful ways, SHIFT can help expand the next generation of users, stewards and stakeholders while developing a diverse workforce that reflects the American demographic and its values.

Participants agreed that SHIFT should act as a central clearinghouse or knowledge broker for best practices happening at the intersection of recreation, conservation, and next-generation engagement. While SHIFT addresses topics at the national scale, it should continue to be grounded in the local, as it was in 2015 with its Marketplace sessions, which highlighted the most innovative, impactful and replicable initiatives from around the country that leveraged outdoor recreation for conservation gains.

SHIFT should also continue to be fun, celebrating successes and our common interests. It should continue to facilitate networking between natural allies whose work often occurs in isolation. By providing a unified framework for stewardship, SHIFT will increase the effectiveness of the coalitions’ efforts to protect our public lands and waters.

Public Land Seizure Movement

SHIFT’s focus on the public land seizure movement should fit into a larger conversation about keeping public lands, water, and wildlife public, healthy and accessible. SHIFT should highlight opportunities such as the potential for the land seizure movement to spark collaboration and partnerships amongst new groups, and articulate how the public land heist is an issue relevant to conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion. In particular, SHIFT should share success stories of innovative, inclusive, collaborative, and effective public land management, as well as the benefits (economic, ecological, and social) of public lands.

Funding for Public Lands

SHIFT should focus on the issue of long-term sustainable funding for public lands, articulating what recreation and conservation can do in concert. It should emphasize economic benefits and build upon and amplify existing efforts to articulate the significance of the recreation economy. Furthermore, it should underscore the return on public lands investments and emphasize non-economic benefits to public lands (e.g., health) as well. SHIFT should also prompt discussions on funding challenges, and highlight innovative or potential funding sources, such as user fees or corporate support.


Participants at the SHIFT Retreat discuss the Emerging Leaders Program. Next-generation engagement and cultural relevancy were among the topics explored at the retreat, which is being used to inform the programming for SHIFT in October. Photo: Ben Johnson

Next generation engagement and cultural relevance

The future of our public lands requires the recruitment of a diverse next generation of stakeholders. SHIFT should be “where the leaders of today meet the leaders of tomorrow,” i.e., an opportunity for emerging leaders to connect with established leadership across industries from the SHIFT stakeholder coalition. But many communities of color have a complex and sometimes painful history with public lands. Before meaningful collaboration between stakeholders can occur, respect and trust—the foundation of all healthy relationships—must be established. The discussion at SHIFT must avoid being paternalistic; avoid being contrived; and avoid tokenism. Listening is an important tool to achieving these goals.

Once that cornerstone requirement has been fulfilled, SHIFT should advance opportunities related to next-generation engagement and cultural relevancy. Traditional conservation organizations, the hunting and fishing communities, and outdoor businesses alike would benefit greatly from deeper thinking and self-reflection on increasing DEI. The creation of professional development opportunities for emerging leaders and young staff members across sectors of the stakeholder coalition can help develop a more diverse workforce and constituent base. By bringing together different models represented by youth-engagement organizations from across the country, SHIFT can facilitate greater networking and unity in the sector.


Story telling should be a central part of SHIFT, as it can be used to share ideas for cross-cultural communication, examples from the field, and untold stories that emphasize, for example, the connection between urban and wilderness. This can include tools for telling these stories to broader audiences. SHIFT should also identify opportunities for common messaging, such as around the value of public lands, the importance of diversity, the economics of recreation and conservation and so on. In particular, SHIFT should capture, via video, participants’ answers to the question, “Public lands are for ______,” and use the resulting content to disseminate public support for public lands during and after SHIFT. This content can also be used by the Outdoor Blogger Summit, which will be held in conjunction with SHIFT, as “teachable moments” that the bloggers can use to optimize their work and connect to its foundation in meaningful ways. This in turn should be used to amplify the message that emerges from SHIFT in 2016.


Retreat participants Aparna Rajagopal-Durbin, Co-Founder of The Avarna Group, Paul Larmer, Publisher, High Country News, and Mike Schlafmann, Public Services Staff Officer, Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, U.S Forest Service. Photo: Ben Johnson

Emerging Leaders Program

The Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) immediately preceding SHIFT is an important tool to prepare young participants for engagement at SHIFT. Through SHIFT, ELP can be used to redirect young leaders prepared by orgs like SCA and 21st Century Conservation Service Corps for career readiness and placement across industries, which in turn would greatly expand the next generation of stakeholders in the coalition. The Collective Impact Model should be used to bring together groups already working on youth-engagement issues to export the resulting framework around the country so that it is more relevant and accessible than a Jackson-based convening. Young leaders should be empowered to apply the SHIFT coalition and its values to their communities, using the resources at their disposal to bring value and definition to work that matters locally.


A platform should be developed to export the SHIFT coalition and its work to communities around the country, where it is more relevant and accessible. Inspired by the TED/TEDx model, the October SHIFT meeting should be the “mother” SHIFT and serve as a space to share information about regional and local efforts to leverage outdoor recreation for conservation gains. Such satellite SHIFTs, the suggested name for which is SHIFTx, should serve as a flexible platform for application of the SHIFT model. Emerging leaders should be engaged as the catalyst for SHIFTx and, supported by their sponsoring youth-engagement organizations as well as leaders in their communities, should be empowered to customize as necessary for meaningful, valuable impact.

Experienced Leaders (Executive Retreat)

An executive retreat that has a concrete agenda and clearly articulated objectives and outcomes should be convened at the conclusion of SHIFT. The retreat should bring together agencies (including federal and state government), major environmental organizations, nonprofits, outdoor recreation groups and industry, and other thought leaders, innovators, and risk takers in the stakeholder coalition. The focus of the retreat should be institutional shifts necessary at the intersection of outdoor experience, conservation, and cultural relevancy.


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