Appropriating the Cause: Conservation Meets Consumerism

SalishFlatheadDelegation
“Salish: Flathead Delegation” (source: Wikimedia)

The Jumbo Valley is an undeveloped span of 6,000 hectares in the Purcell Mountains of British Columbia. Since 1991, locals have combated the proposed Jumbo Glacier Resort (JGR), another prospective ski resort to be constructed in a wildlife corridor that is engulfed by ski resorts: Fernia, Kimberley, Panorama, Kicking Horse, Silver Star, Big White, Apex and Red Mountain. Immediately across the border, in western Alberta, are Lake Louise, Mount Norquay and Sunshine Village. The question has been raised, would the JGR attract new tourism and create new profits or simply siphon profits from existing resorts and, in doing so, only benefit JGR’s own investors? The area is prime bear country and prone to avalanches that could devastate development. So, is constructing the JGR sustainable or even responsible?

In the documentary Jumbo Wild, part of Patagonia Inc.’s New Localism series, the grassroots movement in British Columbia has called on new locals, concerned global citizens, to raise the torch. You can watch Jumbo Wild’s extended trailer, The Movement, below:

Jumbo Wild: The Movement from Patagonia on Vimeo.

So, what is “New Localism”? According to Patagonia:

“We are all locals. We can no longer pass through or visit remote, wild places and trust they will remain that way. Friends of Patagonia have always brought us news of places they loved that are threatened — and Patagonia is committed to bringing our resources and connections to bear on these threats to wildness, far and wide. We all have a chance to make a difference. Take a stand. This is the New Localism.”

New Localism is a telling hook. In Jumbo Wild, as in other documentaries in the New Localism series, we see the old locals – many of whom represent the disenfranchised, indigenous populations whose traditional ways of life have been forever altered and whose ancestral and sacred lands are constantly in danger of corporate acquisition and for-profit development (profits that are more likely to benefit foreign investors than indigenous peoples). These old locals state their cause – protect, preserve, persevere.

Then, we see the new locals (bedecked in Patagonia-brand outdoor wear), tearing through the mountains over powdery snow – adept upon their skis. They have achieved a sort of Northwestern ideal, a Mountain Zen (a Rocky Mountain High, per say). Pristine earth is their playground.

Jumbo Wild is a rhetorically charged title reminiscent of another hip, pro-wilderness documentary, Flathead Wild.

Flathead Wild Trailer from EP Films on Vimeo.

You can watch the full Flathead Wild documentary at http://vimeo.com/12577784.

The Flathead R.A.V.E. (Rapid Assessment Visual Expedition) was undertaken in 2009 by members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP). These photographers took to the Flathead’s mountains, forests and streams (northwest of Glacier National Park) to photograph everything, really, but particularly shooting for bear, trout and moose. The results of the R.A.V.E. went viral in the short documentary, Flathead Wild. The R.A.V.E. was largely successful in promoting and bolstering the cause. In 2010, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell and Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer signed a cross-borders agreement that prohibited methane drilling and open-pit coal mining in the Flathead River Valley. This sort of protection is not permanent, however. The iLCP’s victory in the Flathead highlights the constant battle to protect nature against new proposals for development and resource extraction.

It would only help Jumbo’s cause if the audience realized that connection between the Flathead and Jumbo Valleys. Battling proposed open-pit coal mines in Flathead placed active outdoorsy activists (Patagonia’s target audience) at the forefront of a successful grassroots conservation movement. It is important to note, after all, that the Flathead River Valley is merely 100 miles (give-or-take, as the crow flies) southwest of the Jumbo Valley. That which happens in the Jumbo likely affects the Flathead as well as those ornery animals who recognize no human-defined boundaries and brazenly travel through both valleys as though they belong.

The Flathead Wild and Jumbo Wild documentaries differ most notably in subtext. While Flathead Wild asks its audience to care and get involved, Jumbo Wild ups that “care and get involved” ante by throwing-in a passive, though certainly present, message of CONSUME!

What’s lost in all this – what’s stolen – are the native voices. For more than 20 years, the old locals have warded-off JGR’s slow advance. Still, JGR’s proponents are persistent; old locals need help. For that reason, Patagonia cannot be faulted for throwing its weight around. However, Patagonia uses these native voices to promote another cause, its own. From roughly 4:25 to 6:45 in Jumbo Wild: The Movement, the documentary shifts into advertisement by showcasing how totally rad ripping powder from the Purcell Mountains to the Jumbo Valley can be. Here, Patagonia is hedging its bets. Sure, we’ll pledge to keep the Jumbo Valley wild but, if a resort ever comes to the Jumbo Valley, Patagonia can totally outfit your kickass mountain resort getaway!

Writing on the JGR proposal, Andrew Findlay of Mountain Life expresses due skepticism on rallying this same audience that Patagonia reaches toward in Jumbo Wild. “Skiers, of course, are a fickle, sometimes hedonistic bunch, and it won’t surprise if some of those who proudly sport Jumbo Wild stickers now line up to buy lift tickets if JGR ever becomes more than a glossy brochure concept.” Though the Northwestern ideal may appeal to this audience, the JGR’s gondolas may prove more accessible to the average, more modest thrill-seeker, who may find comfort in centrally heated lodges and reassurance in easy access to medical assistance if anything were to go wrong on the slopes. We can’t all be backcountry skiers but we can all want to be backcountry skiers and we can all dress like backcountry skiers.

Patagonia has appropriated the real-life strife of the old locals to align its brand and merchandise with a feel-good/do-right culture that is less concerned with results than image and some fleeting Northwestern ideal that sends resort moguls and millions of eco-tourists to remote valleys like the Jumbo, rendering the New Localism campaign neither honest nor altruistic. Whatever becomes of the Jumbo Valley is a win/win for Patagonia. Jumbo Wild and the rest of Patagonia’s New Localism documentaries amount to a politically correct resurrection of Iron Eyes Cody or images of the proverbial “Noble Savage” selling something more profound than cigarettes and Land O’Lakes butter.

Only a few years ago, Toys-R-Us released a commercial that slammed nature and nature lovers:

Toys-R-Us “Making Wishes Come True

In summary, nature, conservation and science education are lame. Things matter more than experience and heritage.

Patagonia, at least, rejects this notion. Instead, things are just as important as experience and heritage.

So, does marketing with a message or marketing to make a difference justify subtle manipulation and corporate bet hedging? Patagonia seems to think so. REI and Starbucks, too. After all, funding a documentary that is undoubtedly pro-conservation entangled with pro-consumerism propaganda has gotten folks talking and the overwhelming opinion is “keep the Jumbo Valley wild.”

Maybe, that’s the point of New Localism. I am not Canadian but I live on the very stretch of land that extends from my home in North Carolina for more than two-thousand miles to the Jumbo Valley. We all breathe the same air and leave the same earth to posterity. In this sense, the Jumbo Valley is part of a greater legacy – the legacy of many cultures and many generations who have found themselves all on this one rock, all at once – my legacy, your legacy, our legacy.

In 2015, the Jumbo Glacier Resort proposal expired. Yet, without permanent legal protection, the fate of the unspoiled Jumbo Valley, like the Flathead River Valley, remains unforeseen. The Jumbo Wild movement strives to maintain traction while developers bide time.

Immediacy and consistency cannot be stressed enough where conservation is concerned. Be bold. Speak up. Take action. Sign the petition at http://www.keepitwild.ca/.

Interesting Stuff:

To learn more about the Jumbo Valley and what people are doing to keep it wild, visit http://www.keepitwild.ca/.

“A Really, Really Big Problem: The Continuing Saga of Jumbo Glacier Resort” (Mountain Life): http://www.mountainlifemedia.ca/2015/12/really-really-big-problem-continuing-saga-jumbo-glacier-resort/

Watch the full Jumbo Wild documentary (for a small fee) on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/jumbowild/139967594

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s