Photo: Florian Schulz
This year The Conservation Alliance celebrates its 30th birthday – Executive Director John Sterling looks back on three decades of impact.
Co-founded in 1989 by Kelty, Patagonia, REI and The North Face, The Conservation Alliance is the outdoor industry’s own, native conservation organization. This year, it celebrates 30 years of impact.
“I’m not blowing smoke when I say we’ve mostly had successes,” shares Executive Director John Sterling. Together with its grantees, The Conservation Alliance has to date helped protect 51 million acres, 3,107 river miles, removed or halted 34 dams, purchased 14 climbing areas and designated 5 marine reserves.“The only major setbacks have been external factors beyond our control.”
Recent developments in American politics, for one. Anticipating that the conservation legal landscape was about to be turned upside-down following the 2016 election, The Conservation Alliance began preparing a new strategy. Just in case. It turned out their caution was well-justified as the Trump administration wasted little time in loosening public land protections, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
“That was a bad month,” John reflects, and continues: “We’ve invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to permanently protect this area, and now the possibility of seeing oil platforms there is hard to swallow.”
Preparations Pay Off
Fortunately, having established a full-time advocacy position as well as a separate Public Defence Fund, The Conservation Alliance was ready to meet these new challenges and came out swinging.“Previously, all funds went to creating new protections. Now, we’re investing in defending already protected land.”
Today, it seems conservation battles thought won can no longer be taken for granted. Yet in spite of recent setbacks, John is confident that public lands will win the day in court and his belief in The Conservation Alliance’s purpose remains unshaken: “This all goes to show that maybe nothing’s permanent, but with The Conservation Alliance I feel there’s a permanent voice for conservation in the outdoor industry, an industry where we’ve helped establish conservation as a core value.”