Guest Blog: Faces of the Skeena

Andrew Stegemann, the Community Involvement Manager at Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), spent five days on the Skeena River in British Columbia.  We’re pleased to share Andrew’s story about this sacred place and the local community working to protect it.

The Conservation Alliance has funded the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition to support their efforts to permanently protect the Skeena River watershed.  Thank you, Andrew, for giving us an inside look at this special place.

I visited the Skeena River in northwestern BC to find out what it takes to look after a wild place. On my journey, I discovered that a healthy river is more than just water, trees and fish. It’s also people. – Post by Andrew Stegemann, MEC Community Involvement Manager

The Skeena River is what a wild place should look like. Its water and banks are filled with all five species of Pacific salmon, moose with six-foot-wide antlers, and countless lumbering bears pouncing on the fish brought to them by the river. And it’s not just wildlife that finds safe harbour in this rainforest, but numerous communities as well.

In September, I travelled part of the Skeena’s length and met the people who call it home. Since 2008, MEC has granted $238,916 to this beautiful area as part of our commitment to keep space for adventure in all our lives. The people I met spoke about their loyalty to the region, how they’re taking care of it, and how they can keep the great river they rely on pure and whole.

These are the faces of the Skeena.


The Skeena is the second longest river in BC, beginning high in the coastal mountains and spanning 570km. It’s also one of the longest undammed rivers on the planet, and one of the top sport fishing destinations in the world.


David Dewit is the Natural Resource Manager with the Office of the Wet’suwet’en. Among other duties, he runs a mark-recapture program to understand the number of salmon returning to Wet’suwet’en territory on the Bulkley River, a major tributary of the Skeena.


Wet’suwet’en fishers capture salmon in the canyon as part of the mark-recapture program. Accurate data is needed to make informed management decisions for the land Wet’suwet’en have lived on for countless generations.


Skyla Lattie is the granddaughter of Chief Gwininitxw of the Gitxsan Nation. Her Gitxsan name is Tselasgwit, which means “Little Fish in the Water.” Skyla and her partner spend winter on her traditional territory in a cabin she helped build on a little lake about 140km from the nearest paved road. You can learn more about their adventures at the Maxhla Didaat- Trapper’s Paradise Facebook page.


Skyla making a food offering to friends and ancestors who now reside as spirits.


Skyla’s constant companion Treea rests happily on the banks of the Skeena.


Gitxsan totem poles tell stories, and are read from their bases to their skyward pointing tops.






This is what unbridled enthusiasm looks like. Brian Huntington is a founding member of the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition (SWCC), and points out that they’re a community organization, not a campaign organization. “If we were a campaign organization, we’d be over after a single victory.” 2014 marks SWCC’s tenth year.


Shannon McPhail, Executive Director of the SWCC, laughs hard and often. She’s spent her entire life on the Skeena, growing up on a ranch and hunting and fishing in this wild place. Shannon emphasizes the importance of “ten thousand cups of coffee,” building relationships one coffee conversation at a time. She’s exceptionally dedicated, and well caffeinated.


Cynthia McCreery works on SWCC’s YOW program (Youth on Water), which takes local youth on five-day river rafting trips to build their self-esteem and teach them about conservation, outdoor skills, and traditional First Nations stewardship.



Greg Knox is the Executive Director of the Skeena Wild Conservation Trust. In his soft-spoken, understated manner, Greg speaks with great authority. Using science, Skeena Wild informs, influences and empowers all those that rely on salmon to work towards sustainable fish populations and a healthy Skeena River.


Pink salmon are also known as “humpies” due to their distinct appearance while spawning. Here, a humpy is pictured on a fish counting fence, a tool used to track the numbers of fish returning to a stream.


Bruce Hill is a force in the Skeena River. His Headwaters Initiative is all about strengthening connections between people, keeping it passionate and honest. In the few days I met with Bruce, I saw him fist-bump about ideas like a teenager, lean on a walking stick like a wizard, and wipe away tears as he laughed right from the belly.


Julia Hill, daughter of Bruce Hill, grew up on the Skeena and is now working to protect with it with Skeena Wild. It’s clear the Hill family has a stewardship ethic, and also a need to laugh out loud.


The Skeena River is home to much history, including the North Pacific Cannery, which closed in the 1970s.



My five-day trip ended in the Skeena estuary, where the rainforest, river and ocean meet. Along the way, I fell in love with this wild place, its rich culture and its thriving nature. It’s one of Canada’s unique places, and is full of dedicated people working to make sure it stays that way.

Water is part of our identity as Canadians and recreationists. MEC is dedicated to preserving our fresh water from coast to coast not only through our multi-year MEC Homewaters project, but also in specific wild Canadian places.


A Record 1,089 Volunteers in 2014

Photo: Eli Reichman

It’s been a busy year for The Conservation Alliance! We just wrapped up our most successful Backyard Collective event series since its inception in 2008. Spirits were high, and everyone left the events with an immense feeling of accomplishment. It’s always great to see the amazing work of our grantees, and convening our member companies leads to an amazing sense of camaraderie and celebration of the collective impact we are able to have as part of The Conservation Alliance.

Backyard Collectives bring together member company employees and local grantees for a day of environmental action. These events allow us to get out of the office and get our hands dirty; doing good work to preserve and protect the open spaces in our own backyards. Projects include trail work, invasive species removal, and other creative projects that make a difference in local communities and ecosystems. The BYC program brings together members of the Conservation Alliance community and illustrates firsthand the benefits of conservation efforts and the larger work of The Conservation Alliance.

The Conservation Alliance organized seven Backyard Collectives in 2014, bringing together over 1,000 member company employees, 39 member companies and 36 nonprofits, (more…)

Introducing the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument

Obama signing the proclamation at 1:35 PM, October 10, 2014.

Just moments ago, President Obama permanently protected 346,177 acres by designating the San Gabriel Mountains Nation Monument.

“I have permanently protected three million acres of lands for future generations, and I am not finished.” said Obama, prior to signing the proclamation.  “We have a responsibility to be good stewards to these landscapes”.

This is the 13th National Monument designated by President Obama, and we are confident that this will not be his last.  Our members contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to monument campaigns in recent years, and we look forward to celebrating more successes in the coming months and years.

Breaking News: New San Gabriel Mountains National Monument Coming Soon

Sheep Mountain in San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, CA Photo: Laurel Williams


News broke today that President Obama will designate 346,177 acres in the San Gabriel Mountains as our nation’s newest National Monument on Friday. The San Gabriel Mountains National Monument is located in Southern California’s Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests. 17 million people in the greater Los Angeles area will be within a 90 minute drive from the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, making it one of the most accessible monuments in the country.

This monument follows a 14-year campaign lead by San Gabriel Mountains Forever, a coalition of organizations working towards the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument designation.  Members of The Conservation Alliance funded one of the organizations working on this campaign, California Wilderness Coalition, with two grants totaling $60,000. We are proud to celebrate this success with CWC and all of our members.

Congresswoman Judy Chu introduced legislation in June to establish the San Gabriel National Recreation Area, but that bill has become stuck in a Congress incapable of moving most legislation, no matter how broadly supported. President Obama has demonstrated a willingness to designate national monuments to protect places where Congress fails to act.

We applaud President Obama for using his authority specified under the Antiques Act to designate this monument. We urge him to continue using this authority and leave a legacy of protected wild places for future generations to enjoy.

Backyard Collective: Bend, OR

Photo:  Eli Reichman

Planning an event in the high desert in late September is risky. The day before the Bend Backyard Collective, Mother Nature left a dusting of snow on Mount Bachelor and the Three Sisters Wilderness. Thankfully, this didn’t stop fifty people from local member companies and grantees from joining The Conservation Alliance staff for a day of stewardship in our backyard.

This was the biggest Bend Backyard Collective event to date, thanks to our local members; Ruffwear, Hydroflask, and Quickfeat; and local grantees; Oregon Wild, Deschutes Land Trust and Oregon Natural Desert Association.

We partnered with Central Oregon Trail Alliance (COTA) for a day of clearing brush and debris from a new trail in the Deschutes National Forest.  After just a couple hours, the group had successfully cleared one mile of trail!  Enjoy this photo album documenting our morning of trail work and fun.

This wraps up another successful season of Backyard Collective events.  Thank you to all of our members and grantees who participated, and to Brook Hopper for bringing everyone together in Seattle, the Bay Area, Portland, Boulder, and Santa Barbara.

Photo: Eli Reichman


Photo: Eli Reichman


Photo: Eli Reichman

Summer 2014 Grant Announcement

Little Pine Wasatch, UT  Photo: Noah Howell

We are pleased to announce the results of our Summer 2014 funding cycle. We have contributed $800,000 to 23 organizations in the USA, Canada and Mexico. In 2014, we awarded a record $1.55 million in grants to organizations working to permanently protect wild places. Many great conservation opportunities lie ahead, and we’re pleased to be able to support these important initiatives.

Summer 2014 grantee projects include; a climbing area acquisition, wilderness campaigns, monument campaigns, river protection projects, dam removals, and more!

We’d like to thank all of our members for supporting our grant program through their annual membership dues. We’d also like to thank the members who nominated organizations and participated in the voting process.

Here’s a complete list of the grantees and projects we supported in the Summer 2014 Grant Cycle:

Click here to learn more about how your company can become a member and participate in our funding process.

Obama Protects 408,000 Square Miles of Ocean

Pew Charitable Trust

President Obama used the Antiquities Act today to permanently protect almost a half million square miles of ocean by expanding the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. This increases the total percent of highly protected ocean territory in the US from 6% to 15%.

Learn more about this important ocean habitat and the significance of this designation from our friends at Pew Charitable Trusts.

Signed into law in 1906 by Theodore Roosevelt, the Antiquities Act gives the President the authority to permanently protect public land without the support of Congress. The Antiquities Act has been used over a hundred times since it’s inception. Obama used it in May to create the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks Monument in New Mexico, a project that received over $100,000 from The Conservation Alliance.

While we didn’t fund the Remote Islands Marine National Monument, we applaud the President for using this authority to expand these fragile and important marine reserves. We encourage President Obama to continue using the Antiquities Act to designate more National Monuments. It is important to our economy and to the 140 million Americans that recreate in the outdoors every year.

on nature’s terms

Thomas Paquette, a painter from PA, spent three years on the road visiting wilderness areas across the country. His exhibition, “on nature’s terms” commemorates the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Thomas was kind enough to share his book with us, and answer a few questions about his relationship with Wilderness:

How does wilderness inspire your work?

When I paint a landscape I think not of what it looks like, but how it acts. I am much more concerned with giving my paintings the feeling of life and process, as though it were a living extension of the subject. The slow grind of geology is my best teacher when paintings take years to complete. When I get to a point where the only good solution is to scrape off hours, days, or weeks of work and begin again, I borrow a lesson from the regeneration of forests that comes after a fire or even a landslide. New-fallen snow. I let the paint grow where other artists would prune, only because I would maintain that most times, it grows best growing wild.

Why do you paint wilderness areas?

I have always been interested in the natural world, and even studied to be a naturalist for a while. It’s an obvious fact that there is literally nothing I could choose to paint from experience that is not of this earth. But it is those places where humanity has least impact that have always struck me as holding the most significance. They are for me places that hold mysteries to be explored, places that hint of our deepest roots. I found myself going further into the process of the earth and life for my inspiration, leading me of course to wilderness areas. And when the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act was coming up, I felt focusing exclusively on designated wilderness areas was well worth spending a couple years on anyway. I marveled that we can sometimes end up on the good side of Thoreau’s equation: “A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.”

Do you have a favorite wilderness area?  Which one, and why?


The Taku Watershed Campaign

Flannigan Slough, BC  Photo:  Chris Miller

The Taku is the largest totally intact watershed on the Pacific coast of North America. The 4.5 million acre river system sprawls across the northwest corner of British Columbia, its many tributaries converging to form the main stem of the Taku, which pours across Alaska’s border and becomes ocean just south of Juneau.  It’s no coincidence that this spectacularly wild, virtually pristine international river system – linking interior boreal uplands, verdant temperate and rain forest valleys, and a rich marine estuary — is one of the continent’s premier salmon strongholds.  The Taku is in fact southeast Alaska’s number one salmon producer.  In a time of accelerating climate change and dwindling biodiversity, the ecological value of the Taku’s diverse and interconnected mountain-to-sea ecosystem, with all native flora and fauna in place and thriving, can hardly be overstated.  Here is one of our planet’s premier biological refugias.  Indigenous people on both sides of the border maintain profound cultural connections to the Taku and its bounty of fish and wildlife.  To wilderness adventurers and paddlers, the Taku is a wild and storied destination.  The watershed is, in short, an amazing conservation opportunity.

The Taku is an opportunity because it’s at a crossroads, with its fate yet to be determined. No vast expenditures for habitat restoration are needed here.  All that’s required for the Taku is humility and foresight to keep the watershed as is.  But mining has been proposed near the juncture of the Tulsequah River and the main stem Taku, on the Canadian side very close to the Alaska border. The extremely controversial… (more…)

Keen and Oregon Wild Raise Money for Crater Lake Wilderness

Crater Lake, OR  Photo: Joy Johnston

Earlier this year, we funded the Oregon Wild Crater Lake Wilderness Campaign with a $35,000 grant. Oregon Wild is working to permanently protect more than 500,000 acres of Wilderness in the backcountry of Crater Lake National Park and in the surrounding roadless wildlands that form the headwaters of iconic Rogue, Klamath, and Umpqua rivers in Oregon. According to Oregon Wild, “Oregon still lags far behind its neighbors with only 4% of our state protected as Wilderness — compared to 15% of California, 10% of Washington, and 8% of Idaho.”

To help Oregon Wild raise money for the Crater Lake Wilderness Campaign, Keen is donating a free pair of boots or shoes to anyone who joins with a monthly gift of $10 or more. Keen is a current Pinnacle Member of The Conservation Alliance, and we’re proud to see them working directly with a local grantee.

To learn more about the significant threat currently facing Oregon’s only national park, or to make a donation toward the Crater Lake Wilderness Campaign, visit

Oregon Wild was awarded 12 grants from The Conservation Alliance starting in 1993, for a total of $338,200.

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