North American Bison

Peo­ple, they say, are the ones who save wild places. Bears don’t vote, after all. But wild crit­ters are still at the cen­ter of con­ser­va­tion bat­tles, and every bat­tle needs an icon. Here are some of the wild crea­tures that have found them­selves on conservation’s main stage.

finchThe Finch
“The most curi­ous fact is the per­fect gra­da­tion in the size of the beaks in the dif­fer­ent species of Geospiza, from one as large as that of a hawfinch to that of a chaffinch, wrote a young nat­u­ral­ist on an island in the east­ern Pacif­ic. The birds, of course, were finch­es, with slight­ly dif­fer­ent beaks for pry­ing open slight­ly dif­fer­ent food sources. The islands were the Gala­pa­gos, and the nat­u­ral­ist was a young man named Charles Dar­win. The finch­es inspired the con­cepts of evo­lu­tion and nat­ur­al selec­tion, and the 1959 pub­li­ca­tion of the Ori­gin of the Species rearranged our entire world view. Darwin’s finch­es changed the mean­ing of being human—from being sep­a­rate and above the nat­ur­al world to being a part of it that’s con­stant­ly being remade.

egretThe Egret
Dain­ty, ethe­r­i­al, and val­ued for feath­ers that adorned the hats of high soci­ety gath­er­ings at the turn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, egrets were hunt­ed until they were at risk. To pro­tect them, Har­ri­et Hemen­way and Mina Hall formed a group called the Audubon Soci­ety. When one of their emis­saries asked Pres­i­dent Ted­dy Roo­sevelt to pro­tect Pel­i­can Island in Flori­da in 1903, Roo­sevelt, as the sto­ry goes, turned to an aide and asked if any law pre­vent­ed him from declar­ing the island a refuge. When the aide shook his head, Roo­sevelt sim­ply respond­ed, “Then I so declare it.” The Nation­al Wildlife Refuge sys­tem was born. Fif­teen years lat­er, Pres­i­dent Wil­son signed the Migra­to­ry Bird Treaty Act, to this day one of the strongest laws pro­tect­ing birds.

North American BisonThe Bison
Bison used to roam the great plains in inde­scrib­able num­bers. Upwards of 60 mil­lion ranged from the edge of Alas­ka to Mex­i­co and from the Rock­ies to the east­ern states. But the seem­ing­ly inex­haustible bison were slaugh­tered, along with the Indige­nous pop­u­la­tions that depend­ed on them, in the west­ward expan­sion of the late 1800s. We pulled back from the brink of total extinc­tion, but just bare­ly: only 300 bison remained in the U.S. in 1900. Today there are rough­ly 360,000 wild buf­fa­lo in the Dako­tas, Yel­low­stone, Mon­tana and Utah, but they’re at risk from lim­it­ed genet­ic diver­si­ty. The decline of the buf­fa­lo was the first wake-up call about the Tragedy of the Com­mons; but it wouldn’t be the last.

atlantic codThe Atlantic Cod
Cod was like gold—except it tastes bet­ter when bat­tered and fried. Lit­er­al wars have been fought over cod fish­ing grounds. Colo­nial Amer­i­ca relied on the sea’s boun­ty of cod to both feed and finance the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. Like the bison, cod was once so abun­dant nobody could imag­ine the fish­ery fail­ing, but it did. Over­fish­ing and drag-trawls that dam­aged the seafloor cod depend­ed on led to a cycle of decline. Pres­sured to make a liv­ing as stocks fell, New Eng­land and Cana­di­an fish­er­men fished even hard­er. Radar and sonar-equipped trawlers found cod in deep­er waters—but also increased bycatch of non­com­mer­cial fish, which deplet­ed the cod’s food source. By the 1980s, the fish­ery was in deep trou­ble, and like north­west­ern log­ging towns, with the cod went the liveli­hood of many. By the time any­one act­ed, it was too late. A two-year cod mora­to­ri­um in 1992 was imposed on the Grand Banks to see if the cod pop­u­la­tion would recov­er. The ban is still in place today. As with the bison, we learned from our mis­takes. The Marine Stew­ard­ship Coun­cil was found­ed in 1997 to set stan­dards for sus­tain­able fish­ing lev­els for species around the globe. Cal­i­for­nia and Ore­gon have estab­lished marine reserves: fish­ing-free zones where fish can breed.

spotted owlThe Spot­ted Owl
To any­one who lived in Ore­gon or Wash­ing­ton at the time, the 1980s and 90s was the era of “Spot­ted Owl Wars,” a long strug­gle between log­ging inter­ests and con­ser­va­tion in the Pacif­ic Northwest’s ancient forests. The endan­gered Spot­ted Owl became a sym­bol on both sides. To con­ser­va­tion­ists, it was the endan­gered icon of a van­ish­ing ecosys­tem. To res­i­dents of tim­ber-depen­dent towns, it was an obscure bird threat­en­ing their liveli­hood. Years of leg­isla­tive and court bat­tles lat­er, the out­come of this seem­ing­ly zero-sum game was that every­one lost. Jobs and mills dis­ap­peared from tim­ber towns, but from mech­a­niza­tion and the eco­nom­ic shift to tech­nol­o­gy, not from envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. Two decades lat­er, spot­ted owl pop­u­la­tions are still in decline, and forests remain frag­ment­ed and slow to recover.

gray wolvesThe Gray Wolf
The Gray Wolf rivals the spot­ted owl for its polar­iz­ing effect: to some it’s a scary preda­tor. To oth­ers, it’s a nat­ur­al part of the Amer­i­can eco­log­i­cal fab­ric that was wrong­ly vil­i­fied. When wolves were re-intro­duced to Yel­low­stone in the 1990s, the ecosys­tem of our first nation­al park rebound­ed. The wolves unleashed an eco­log­i­cal rip­ple effect: wolves kept elk herds on the move, which allowed stream banks to heal, which helped trout pop­u­la­tions. Coy­otes gave up ter­ri­to­ry and squir­rel pop­u­la­tions rebound­ed, which meant more seeds were dis­trib­uted, so forests recov­ered faster from fires. An adapt­able, ver­sa­tile species that avoids humans, wolves now thrive in Mon­tana, Ida­ho, Wash­ing­ton and North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, with rel­a­tive­ly few con­flicts with peo­ple. The wolf is a sym­bol that we can live with preda­tors after all.

PikaThe Next One: The Pika
The next sym­bol for a major con­ser­va­tion issue may well be an adorable, small and reclu­sive rel­a­tive of the rab­bit, the Pika. A year-round inhab­i­tant of high moun­tains, the Pika pop­u­la­tion is declin­ing because of cli­mate change—and since they live in the high peaks, there’s nowhere fur­ther up for them to go.

people Mather PointThe Oth­er Next One: The Human
It’s easy for those of us that seek out wild places at every oppor­tu­ni­ty to assume that con­ser­va­tion is about wolves, fish, owls and forests. But the next poster ani­mal for con­ser­va­tion is human beings. As cli­mate change cre­ates severe storms and hot­ter sum­mers, the impacts of flood­ing, dis­place­ment, dis­ease, asth­ma and car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease make peo­ple, not pel­i­cans or pen­guins, the species that we’ll want to pro­tect. We have met the ally, and it is us.

Zion Canyon National Park

Yosemite park

Few issues in the West have been as divi­sive as pub­lic lands. Con­ser­va­tion, recre­ation, min­ing, log­ging, ranch­ing, fish­ing, camp­ing and wilder­ness are often at odds. The divides are usu­al­ly seen along urban-rur­al lines and left-right polit­i­cal lines. But, when nation­al pol­i­tics seem more divid­ed that ever, pub­lic lands offer some­thing rare indeed: some­thing most agree on.

A recent poll of the west’s inter­moun­tain states prove that love of pub­lic lands cross­es par­ty lines.

West­ern­ers Just Wan­na Have Fun
The poll revealed how deeply west­ern­ers val­ue access to pub­lic lands and out­door recre­ation. 82% want­ed greater access to pub­lic lands for fish­ing, hunt­ing, camp­ing, hik­ing and oth­er types of out­door recre­ation. The sup­port crossed par­ty lines and was equal­ly strong from peo­ple who lived in the sub­urbs, the cities, and small towns. By con­trast, only 22% want­ed more empha­sis on job cre­at­ing indus­tries on pub­lic lands.

Habi­tat Rocks
But west­ern­ers don’t just care about whether they can get a camp­site or ride their moun­tain bike. Both Repub­li­cans and Democ­rats rat­ed “pol­lu­tion of lakes, rivers, and streams” as of equal impor­tance to employ­ment. When asked which was more impor­tant: pro­tect­ing clean water, air, and recre­ation or pro­duc­ing ener­gy and jobs, West­ern­ers went for water, air, and pub­lic lands by a fac­tor of more than 3:1.

Clean Jobs
Jobs are also tak­ing on a green tinge. When asked what kinds of jobs they want­ed to bring to their state, the most pop­u­lar answer was solar, wind, and renew­able ener­gy. Out­door recre­ation was seen as a bet­ter source of jobs than oil and gas. 85% approve lim­it­ing oil and gas drilling and pro­tect­ing envi­ron­men­tal­ly sen­si­tive places even in oil, coal and gas depen­dent Wyoming.

Zion Canyon National ParkWe Like Our Land Managers
When small towns strug­gle, the fin­ger often gets point­ed at the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment which owns large por­tions of land that gen­er­ates tim­ber for local mills and range­land for cows. But sup­port for the agen­cies is strong. Approval rates for the Park Ser­vice, For­est Ser­vice and Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice ranged between 76% and 82%. Only 25% dis­agreed with the work of the Bureau of Land Man­age­ment, the least under­stood agency.

Keep It Public 
When asked if pub­lic lands should be giv­en to states, the answer was a resound­ing no. In Utah and Neva­da, where new pro­tec­tions of Bear’s Ears and Gold Butte was “con­tro­ver­sial,” the sur­vey revealed that these Nation­al Mon­u­ments aren’t that con­tro­ver­sial at all. Uta­hans and Nevadans sup­port them by dou­ble-dig­it margins.

In Feb­ru­ary, Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Jason Chaf­fetz of Utah intro­duced a bill to sell off more than 3 mil­lion acres of pub­lic lands to pri­vate inter­ests. He was hit by an imme­di­ate back­lash from across the polit­i­cal spec­trum. Hunters, fish­ers, out­door gear com­pa­nies, hik­ers, and campers flood­ed his inbox and Insta­gram feed. He with­drew the bill a week later.

We All Agree
Chaf­fetz shouldn’t have been sur­prised; love of pub­lic lands is built into the cul­ture of the West. We flock here for the wide-open spaces, not to make a fast buck. The peo­ple sur­veyed were more Repub­li­can than Demo­c­rat, more con­ser­v­a­tive than lib­er­al or mod­er­ate. But the val­ue of pub­lic lands and out­door recre­ation rings out loud­ly across the board. When he start­ed the Nation­al Park Ser­vice, Stephen Math­er saw pub­lic lands as a meet­ing ground where Amer­i­cans from all back­grounds and walks of life could enjoy their nation­al her­itage togeth­er on the trails and around the camp­fire. Here’s to that.

The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work is a cer­ti­fied 501c3 non-prof­it that part­ners with con­ser­va­tion­ists around the globe to devel­op com­mu­ni­ty-based projects ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing wildlife and peo­ple co-exist. We’re pay­ing homage to the WCN, a non­prof­it doing excel­lent work in the field for over 15 years.

Steve Mandel cheetah pack

“WCN’s mis­sion is to pro­tect endan­gered species and pre­serve their nat­ur­al habi­tats by sup­port­ing entre­pre­neur­ial con­ser­va­tion­ists who pur­sue inno­v­a­tive strate­gies for peo­ple and wildlife to coex­ist and thrive.” The WCN does this by sup­port­ing its part­ners with the appro­pri­ate cap­i­tal and resources to help them ful­fill their goals, whether it’s mar­ket­ing, account­ing, fund­ing, or strate­gic plan­ning. Addi­tion­al­ly, by effi­cient­ly allo­cat­ing resources WCN is unique in the way it is able to work with local orga­ni­za­tions and apply aid where it is need­ed most. Steve Mandel Elephants Marching

Since its found­ing in 2002, the WCN has grown to be one of the most wide­ly rec­og­nized non­prof­its doing work with endan­gered species today. With an annu­al rev­enue of close to 10 mil­lion dol­lars, they’ve part­nered with hun­dreds of orga­ni­za­tions glob­al­ly, includ­ing the Save the Ele­phants char­i­ty and the Leonar­do DiCaprio Foun­da­tion. In addi­tion, they’ve suc­cess­ful­ly launched their own annu­al Wildlife Expo which hap­pens annu­al­ly, notable keynote speak­ers have includ­ed, Dr. Jane Goodall, Peter Matthiessen, and Dr. Greg Rasmussen.

Steve Mandel painted dog pack

“The Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work’s rad­i­cal approach to con­ser­va­tion — send­ing 100% of every dol­lar to the field — has fun­da­men­tal­ly upped our game for our work to keep Kenya wild with ele­phants. Our joint Ele­phant Cri­sis Fund is now tak­ing that same con­cept and respond­ing to the mas­sive chal­lenge of the ivory cri­sis to ensure ele­phants will always roam wild and safe­ly across the entire African con­ti­nent.” — Frank Pope, Chief Oper­a­tions Offi­cer, Save the Elephants

Steve Mandel lion cub play

“Imag­ine a trail run or ride with no wildlife in it. A once in a life­time safari with no ele­phants or lions. A trek through the Andes with no clawed or pawed tracks in the trail in front of you. We can’t either. That’s why the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work finds the best and the bright­est con­ser­va­tion heroes around the world who fight for endan­gered wildlife and ensure their mis­sion suc­cess: to keep wildlife in the wild.” — Jef­frey Par­rish, Vice Pres­i­dent for Con­ser­va­tion, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Network

To learn more about the Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Net­work or to get involved, check out their web­site here. All pho­tos tak­en by Steven Man­del, cour­tesy of WCN.

Ask a ran­dom per­son who they asso­ciate with wilder­ness, and they’ll prob­a­bly say John Muir, Ansel Adams or Ted­dy Roo­sevelt. Most out­doors folks also know the names Aldo Leopold, Gif­ford Pin­chot and Bob Mar­shall. And right­ly so: they all played a key role in the wilder­ness move­ment. But behind these icons are many less­er-known peo­ple, old and mod­ern, who have put their stamp on our wild places. Even if you’ve nev­er heard of them, you’ve ben­e­fit­ted from their work.


Frank Church
FrankChurchThe Frank Church Riv­er of No Return Wilder­ness in Cen­tral Ida­ho is the largest Amer­i­can wilder­ness out­side of Alas­ka. It includes the famed Mid­dle Fork of the Salmon Riv­er, the main stem Salmon and the adjoin­ing Gospel Hump. Few of the rafters who queue for per­mits know that Ida­ho Sen­a­tor Frank Church had his hands on almost every piece of wilder­ness leg­is­la­tion, a tough propo­si­tion for a pro-envi­ron­ment Demo­c­rat from con­ser­v­a­tive Ida­ho. He led the cam­paign to pro­tect the Saw­tooths and Hells Canyon and was the floor spon­sor of the 1964 Wilder­ness Act and the 1968 Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The Riv­er of No Return Wilder­ness was the crow­ing glo­ry in his career: he intro­duced the bill in 1980, his last year in the Senate.

Mar­jo­ry Stone­man Douglas
Marjory_S_Douglas_Friends_photoMar­jo­ry Stone­man Dou­glas first encoun­tered the Ever­glades as a writer for the Mia­mi Her­ald in 1940, and began writ­ing about it in earnest as a free­lancer. The result was The Riv­er of Grass, pub­lished in 1947, which made the Ever­glades a house­hold name. The first print­ing sold out in under a month. Com­pared to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in its impact, it changed the nation­al view of the Ever­glades from a worth­less swamp to a wildlife-rich trea­sure. The nation’s entire view of wet­lands shift­ed. She stood watch over the Ever­glades until her death in 1998 at the ten­der young age of 108.

Andy Kerr, Tim Lille­bo, Reg­na Mer­rit and Wen­dell Wood
The pow­er quar­tet of the Ore­gon Nat­ur­al Resources Coun­cil (Now Ore­gon Wild) adopt­ed a bare-knuck­led style that put ancient forests on the nation­al radar screen in their fight to pro­tect the Northwest’s forests of the 1980s and 90s. The long strug­gle wres­tled (and still wres­tles) with the eco­log­i­cal impacts of log­ging, the tran­si­tion away from a tim­ber-based econ­o­my and the endur­ing val­ue of forests to clean water and human health. Kerr, who still works on con­ser­va­tion issues in Ash­land and Wash­ing­ton D.C., became a light­ing rod for crit­ics. Lille­bo and Wood fought tire­less­ly to pro­tect their home forests in Cen­tral Ore­gon and the Kla­math Basin until their deaths in 2014 and 2015. Mer­rit now works to pro­tect the Colum­bia Riv­er from fuel trains and the risk of a cat­a­stroph­ic spill.

Olaus and Mardy Murie
Olaus_and_Mardy_MurieMar­garet and Olaus Murie were mar­ried at 3 a.m. in 1924, under the mid­night sun on the bank of the Yukon Riv­er. Their hon­ey­moon was a bit non-tra­di­tion­al: a 500-mile dogsled and boat jour­ney study­ing the move­ments of bar­ren-ground cari­bou. Wilder­ness and wildlife gov­erned their lives, from elk in Jack­son Hole, fox­es in the Aleu­tians and urg­ing Franklin Roo­sevelt to incor­po­rate ecosys­tem bound­aries into Olympic Nation­al Park. A trip to the Sheen­jek Riv­er in Alaska’s Brooks Range in 1956 inspired a cam­paign for a mas­sive pro­tect­ed area in the high arc­tic large enough to pro­tect a ful­ly func­tion­ing ecosys­tem. The first result was Gates of the Arc­tic Nation­al Park. The larg­er impact was a seis­mic shift in land con­ser­va­tion from small scenic areas to vast swaths that could sus­tain wildlife pop­u­la­tions, which lat­er found its expres­sion in the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge. Mardy helped block sev­er­al attempts to open the Arc­tic Nation­al Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling until she died at 102.

Rod­er­ick Nash
A white­wa­ter rafter who made the first descent of the Tuolumne Riv­er, Nash was a grad­u­ate stu­dent when he pub­lished his dis­ser­ta­tion in book form in 1967. Wilder­ness and the Amer­i­can Mind was a ground­break­ing: it launched envi­ron­men­tal his­to­ry as a seri­ous pur­suit. After wit­ness­ing an oil spill near San­ta Bar­bara two years lat­er, he launched one of the nation’s first Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies pro­grams at UCSB, start­ing with only 12 stu­dents. It’s since pro­duced over 4,000 grad­u­ates and made envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies a career path.

Paul Pet­zoldt
Nash bred gen­er­a­tions of envi­ron­men­tal schol­ars and pol­i­cy wonks; Pet­zoldt bred climbers, skiers and kayak­ers. When he first climbed the Grand Teton at age 16 in cow­boy boots, he real­ized new tech­niques and prepa­ra­tion were need­ed. He for­mal­ized climb­ing pro­to­cols, start­ed the Teton’s first guide con­ces­sion and was part of the first Amer­i­can expe­di­tion to K2. In the Sec­ond World War he taught moun­tain safe­ty to the leg­endary 10th Moun­tain Divi­sion. But his true mark on wilder­ness was the 1965 found­ing of the Nation­al Out­door Lead­er­ship School, which teach­es peo­ple to be inspired by the out­doors and lead groups safe­ly. Half a cen­tu­ry lat­er, it’s still the worlds’ pre­em­i­nent out­door lead­er­ship acad­e­my with over 120,000 alum­ni and counting.

William Wordsworth
Benjamin_Robert_Haydon_002You’re prob­a­bly won­der­ing what a British poet is doing on a list of Amer­i­can wilder­ness advo­cates. Wordsworth and his fel­low Roman­tic Poets launched the move­ment to recon­nect with nature that made the wilder­ness move­ment pos­si­ble. His ram­bles around the Lake Dis­trict con­vinced him that raw nature, not civ­i­liza­tion, was where the human spir­it was most inspired, rekin­dled and able to see larg­er truths. With­out him, wilder­ness would have still been as it had been before: as threat­en­ing rather than inspiring.

Howard Zah­nis­er
Sept_04_wildernessWordsworth is the famous poet, but Zah­nis­er, far from a house­hold name, wrote some­thing equal­ly impor­tant: the Wilder­ness Act. Along with the Muries, Zah­nis­er was a dri­ving force in the long move­ment to con­gres­sion­al sup­port of a nation­al wilder­ness sys­tem. He went through 66 drafts and steered the bill through 18 sub­com­mit­tee hear­ings. Most laws are writ­ten in dry legalese, but the Wilder­ness Act con­tains some poet­ic lan­guage about nature that still guides our legal and spir­i­tu­al def­i­n­i­tion of what wild tru­ly means. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Zah­nis­er didn’t live to see the Act passed. He died just before its pas­sage in 1964.

Three Guys from New Jersey
Brock Evans, long­time leader in the Wilder­ness move­ment, tells a sto­ry about how three peo­ple from New Jer­sey saved Misty Fjords Nation­al Mon­u­ment in Alas­ka. Dur­ing the Con­gres­sion­al markup ses­sions on an Alas­ka wilder­ness bill, a crit­i­cal Con­gress­man from New Jer­sey who rep­re­sent­ed the swing vote began vot­ing against pre­serv­ing Misty Fjords. Evans and his col­leagues were unable to sway him. The night before a crit­i­cal vote, Evans scoured Audubon’s phone list, and was able to reach three peo­ple in his home dis­trict. All three called the Congressman’s office the next morn­ing right before he left for the crit­i­cal floor vote. Those phone calls cre­at­ed just enough pres­sure at the right time to change his vote. Pro­tect­ing wild places is usu­al­ly the result of many small actions by a lot of peo­ple. The next cru­cial phone call could be made by you.

Pho­to by Eli Duke

Every­one knows fes­ti­vals aren’t the most sus­tain­able pub­lic gath­er­ing out there. It’s no sur­prise that thou­sands of peo­ple gath­er­ing in a con­fined space with an excess of plas­tic, elec­tric­i­ty, sewage, and all the oth­er forms of waste you can think of, is not going to be great for the envi­ron­ment. While we’re not try­ing to harp on any­one’s parade, there is some­thing to be admired in a fes­ti­val like Pickathon, which goes above and beyond to make sure it’s impact is min­i­mal. Here’s some things Pickathon is doing to make their fes­ti­val more friend­ly on all fronts:

Plas­tic Free

Since 2010 Pickathon has been com­mit­ted to elim­i­nat­ing all plas­tic at the fes­ti­val. Pickathon elim­i­nat­ed all sin­gle-use cups, bot­tles, dish­es, and uten­sils, mean­ing it’s the only out­door music fes­ti­val in the US to min­i­mize sin­gle-use cups, dish­ware, and utensils.

Pho­to by Eli Duke

Recy­cling & Renewable 

Pickathon’s recy­cling and com­post staff is made up of vol­un­teers who spend most of the fes­ti­val round­ing up every­thing that can be either recy­cled or com­post­ed. Obvi­ous­ly they aren’t the only fes­ti­val to offer recy­cling, but their pri­or­i­ty in mak­ing sure that all waste is being prop­er­ly dis­posed of is unprece­dent­ed. In addi­tion they also use a renew­able ener­gy source, solar pan­els, which pro­vide the fes­ti­val with it’s pow­er. Sup­pos­ed­ly the ener­gy gen­er­at­ed by the pan­els dur­ing the year off­sets all of the ener­gy used dur­ing the entire fes­ti­val, includ­ing elec­tric­i­ty used by ven­dors. Not to men­tion all their gen­er­a­tors are solar. 

Free Water

While this might seem obvi­ous, water is actu­al­ly a huge com­mod­i­ty at out­door fes­ti­vals, often times peo­ple at Burn­ing Man pack in cas­es upon cas­es of drink­ing water just to have stock for the whole fes­ti­val. At Pickathon there is plen­ty of free drink­ing water through­out Pen­darvis Farm. Just don’t for­get to bring your own con­tain­ers. Kleen Kan­teen also spon­sors the fes­ti­val and gives every atten­dant a sig­na­ture Pickathon cup to use while at the festival. 

Pho­to by Ali­son Jean Cole


While yes rules might not always be fun, some­times they’re nec­es­sary, espe­cial­ly if you’re try­ing to min­i­mize your impact you’re going to need some seri­ous restric­tions. Pickathon has a hand­ful of rules which all con­tribute to their sus­tain­abil­i­ty efforts in their own way. For instance all alco­hol must be bought with­in the fes­ti­val and while this might obvi­ous­ly ben­e­fit the providers it’s also an easy way to con­trol the waste. In addi­tion, it’s ille­gal to destroy any native plants, pets are not allowed, smok­ing is des­ig­nat­ed to small areas, and there are no firearms, fire­works, or fires.


Curios­i­ty has dri­ven Aaron Koch to do some wild things…

It made him leave his Sin­ga­pore home­land and ven­ture to the frigid waters of the Ore­gon coast. It led him to sail a boat through pirate ter­ri­to­ry in the Celebes Sea. A boat that lat­er got struck by light­ning. But the great­est thing curios­i­ty guid­ed him to do was work on the cacao farms of Hawaii. There, Aaron dug his hands into the dirt and dis­cov­ered a life­long passion.

In the tiny tree­house he called home, an idea formed: a choco­late com­pa­ny that does jus­tice to the craft and spir­it of cacao farm­ing. That uses only pre­mi­um organ­ic cacao, sus­tain­ably sourced direct from the farm­ers. Tree­house for­goes unhealthy sub­sti­tutes in favor of sim­ple, nat­ur­al deli­cious­ness. We sat down to talk with Aaron about what choco­late means to him, why sus­tain­abil­i­ty is cru­cial, what his plans are for the future, and much more. When you’re done read­ing, check out Tree­house Choco­late here.

Why choco­late?

Cacao farm­ing led to a curios­i­ty in choco­late which led to choco­late mak­ing. I was vis­it­ing Port­land and nev­er left… In one morn­ing (3 days before I was sup­posed to fly back to Hawaii) I bought a small ship­ping con­tain­er, signed a lease on a ware­house to put it in, and rent­ed a room in a house 5 blocks away. I real­ly hit the ground run­ning and haven’t looked back.

Sus­tain­ably sourced ingre­di­ents and nat­ur­al prod­ucts seem to be inte­gral to your choco­late; can you talk about why that is?

My inter­est in organ­ic per­ma­cul­ture farm­ing is what land­ed me on a cacao farm ini­tial­ly, so every­thing I do comes from that foun­da­tion. First ques­tion is always, is it sus­tain­able, is it some­thing I believe in? If I scale it, will it make the world better?

Cacao is an under­sto­ry, which means it needs taller trees to shade it because it can’t take direct sun­light. With organ­ic, coop­er­a­tive grown cacao in North­ern Peru, they’re using the wild exist­ing rain­for­est to shade the cacao from the harsh sun­light. So by sup­port­ing these types of farm­ing prac­tices, we’re pre­serv­ing the rain­for­est as a default.

Where do you source your choco­late from?

We’re sourc­ing cacao from the Oro Verde Coop­er­a­tive in North­ern Peru. Peru has some of the best cacao and can pro­duce it with con­sis­tent quality.

Can you talk about the dif­fer­ent fla­vors Tree­house offers? What inspired them?

Each of the fla­vors were inspired from an adven­ture or an expe­ri­ence I’ve had. The Nec­tar uses a coconut milk and coconut sug­ar which was inspired by the time I spent the win­ter surf­ing in Bali and when the surf was flat for a few days I hopped on the motor­bike and rode to the east side of the island where it’s coconut trees as far as the hori­zon. I bumped into a coconut farmer while fill­ing up at a gas sta­tion and he offered to give me a tour of his coconut farm. We rode our motor­bikes to var­i­ous coconut farms around his region of the island and he even brought me to a secret moun­tain top moon­shine oper­a­tion! The road to that one was so steep that if we stopped our bikes we’d start slid­ing back down the dirt road. It was fun stuff!

The Cher­ry­wood uses a cher­ry wood smoked sea salt from the Ore­gon coast. For me that’s close to my heart because when I moved from Sin­ga­pore to Ore­gon at 18 I learned to surf here. I’ve swal­lowed my fair share of Ore­gon sea water over the years to the point where I feel it’s a big part of me. I was excit­ed to find an Ore­gon based salt mak­er just 5 blocks from my shop.

The Camp was inspired by want­i­ng a decent cup of cof­fee on my many adven­tures and nev­er find­ing one that was quite up to snuff. I decid­ed to cre­ate my dream hot morn­ing bev­er­age option. CAMP was born! It’s a mocha in a bag and it’s hon­est­ly bet­ter than you can get in most cof­fee shops.

The Orig­i­nal was the foun­da­tion con­cept… a thick rich drink­ing choco­late you can make with just hot water. Organ­ic, and direct­ly sourced from farmer owned coop­er­a­tives…. True to the roots of cacao farm­ing, which is what got me inter­est­ed in choco­late in the first place.

From start to fin­ish, can you speak towards the process of how this choco­late comes to live?

We pick an organ­ic farmer owned coop­er­a­tive, in this case we source from a region in North­ern Peru (Oro Verde). I work with my bud­dy Juan, (who lives in Port­land and grew up in that region of Peru) to source the beans by the ton. These beans are roast­ed and ground down into liq­uid choco­late for about 3 days, then poured into blocks. Those blocks are shaven down into a pow­der, and mixed with organ­ic cocoa pow­der, organ­ic skim milk pow­der, and oth­er deli­cious ingre­di­ents to form blends which you just add hot water to for an epic choco­late experience.

What were some of the hard­est things about start­ing this company?

Every­thing! Jok­ing… no, I’m not sure how to answer that one. I’d say it’s not for every­one, but if you real­ly love some­thing and think it should be brought to the world, then you’ve got to give it your every­thing or you’ll always regret not try­ing. I’d rather fail epi­cal­ly a hun­dred times than nev­er try to make my dreams come to life. It’s just a way of being for me.


It says on your site you were raised in Sin­ga­pore, sailed around the Pacif­ic, and end­ed up farm­ing cacao beans in Hawaii, can you speak to how your adven­tures have got­ten you to this point?

Yup, I feel like I spent a large part of my life gath­er­ing sto­ries. Like opt­ing to take a 2 week sail­ing adven­ture to get from Sin­ga­pore to Bali instead of a 4 hour plane ride. That 2 week sail­ing trip turned into an epic adven­ture when we got struck by light­ning and lost all navigation/radio equip­ment in the heav­i­est pirat­ed waters of Indone­sia. Then when I got off the boat I found myself strand­ed amidst the chaos of some civ­il unrest on the island of Sulawe­si and spent 3 weeks liv­ing with a fam­i­ly in a lit­tle vil­lage wait­ing for the next fer­ry to arrive.

Expe­ri­ences like this can’t be bought or found with con­ve­nience… it’s a con­cept our grand­par­ents under­stood inher­ent­ly. My grand­pa used to describe the impor­tance of the devel­op­ment of char­ac­ter in the same sen­tence as he’d describe hard work or dis­com­fort. The cul­ti­va­tion of adven­ture requires us to put our­selves into uncom­fort­able cir­cum­stances and find out what we’re made of.

What on earth does that have to do with your ques­tion?… well, I guess all the adven­tures I’ve put myself through have led to this point, and every time I run into some­thing with Tree­house which seems near­ly impos­si­ble, I look back on all the seem­ing­ly impos­si­ble stuff I’ve made it through and think… this is total­ly doable.

Out of all the places you could have cho­sen to start this com­pa­ny, why the Pacif­ic Northwest?

I love it here! It’s where the city meets the coun­try in every sense of the con­cept. You can be in the most serene and remote envi­ron­ment with­in 1 hour of the city. The peo­ple are down to earth and see the val­ue in sim­plic­i­ty. Things like bike lanes are nor­mal here.

I just built a tiny house set­up and live on 1/3rd acre of land about 4 miles from my shop. It’s pret­ty sweet wak­ing up and feel­ing like I’m back in my lit­tle farm bun­ga­low on Kauai but being a few min­utes away from my choco­late fac­to­ry in the cen­ter of the city. After spend­ing most of my life trav­el­ing around remote islands and liv­ing on farms in Hawaii, Port­land is the biggest city I’d feel com­fort­able liv­ing in. It’s just right for me.

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What would you say your biggest achieve­ments have been since start­ing Tree­house, as a company?

Every day is huge for me! I wake up and say… “Let’s do this thing!” I’d say being inter­viewed by you guys and mak­ing it to this point right now is a pret­ty damn big achievement!

What advice would you give to a young per­son try­ing to start sim­i­lar business?

Make sure you love it and are doing it for the right rea­sons and either be pre­pared to fail epi­cal­ly or suc­ceed epi­cal­ly… try to avoid the in between stuff.

What’s the next step for Tree­house Chocolate?

We’re going to start work­ing with a Cana­di­an dis­trib­u­tor to cov­er Cana­da in Tree­house drink­ing choco­late. Also we just signed up for a booth at the New York City Fan­cy Food Show, so in June we’ll be launch­ing our prod­uct line on the east coast. That’s a pret­ty big move for us.

We’re also work­ing on some real­ly rad new stuff that I can’t tell you about but will be launch­ing ear­ly this sum­mer… it’s going to knock your socks off!

Buy Tree­house Choco­late Here



Upcy­cleverb — Upcy­cling is the process of con­vert­ing waste mate­ri­als or use­less prod­ucts into new mate­ri­als or prod­ucts of bet­ter qual­i­ty or a high­er envi­ron­men­tal value.

In the­o­ry, there’s noth­ing wrong with not need­ing or want­i­ng some­thing any­more. The prob­lem is what we do with all of our unwant­ed stuff.

“In 2006, Amer­i­cans gen­er­at­ed more than 11.8 mil­lion tons of tex­tile waste, which rep­re­sents 10 pounds for every per­son. Every week, one fac­to­ry can dis­pose of about 60,000 pounds of tex­tile waste that goes into land­fills. Clothes that are dis­card­ed not only con­tribute sol­id waste in land­fills, but also are part of a sys­tem that uses ener­gy and cre­ates car­bon emis­sions in tran­sit to dis­tant lands.” — LOOPTWORKS

Port­land-based LOOPTWORKS has devel­oped a unique process to assem­ble unique cloth­ing from excess mate­ri­als and components.




Some of the key ben­e­fits and added sus­tain­abil­i­ty as a result include:

  • A reduced pro­duc­tion time: Typ­i­cal­ly, from design to man­u­fac­tur­ing to ship­ping, cloth­ing pro­duc­tion would take up to 54 weeks at best. LOOPTWORKS can do the same in 12 weeks using less resources. 

  • Tru­ly unique: Using high-qual­i­ty excess mate­ri­als means that there’s a lim­it­ed run on lines. Each item in their lim­it­ed run is hand-num­bered and one-of-a-kind.

  • Cuts back on cre­at­ing more waste: LOOPTWORKS has no desire to cre­ate cloth­ing that has to be replaced in six short months. Each item is built to last, cut­ting back on the fre­quen­cy in which you’d look to replace your clothing.

Co-founder, Scott Ham­lin, main­tains that LOOPTWORKS is tack­ling a big­ger com­po­nent in sus­tain­abil­i­ty: pre-con­sumer waste. They do so by elim­i­nat­ing the need to go out and find com­po­nents to make their cloth­ing mate­ri­als and sim­ply using the excess mate­ri­als nor­mal­ly tossed away in oth­er processes.

Their prac­tices have been get­ting a lot of pos­i­tive atten­tion with a shout-out in O Mag­a­zine, an endorse­ment by Al Gore, and LOOPTWORKS has received the Inno­va­tion in Sus­tain­abil­i­ty Award from the Port­land Busi­ness Journal.


We’re con­stant­ly work­ing to expand the types of out­door activ­i­ties we fea­ture on The Clymb. We know that the world is a big place, filled with count­less ways to enjoy its beau­ty and explore its mys­ter­ies. It’s impor­tant to us to pro­vide the gear and appar­el that’s impor­tant to you. 

We’re hap­py to offer up VIVOBAREFOOT for all you min­i­mal­ist run­ners out there. They have the sci­ence to back up their belief that bare­foot run­ning allows you to run com­fort­ably and safe­ly and is, in fact, the way nature intend­ed us to run. You can get more info on their sci­en­tif­ic research here. And then shop our VIVOBAREFOOT event at up to 70% off.

Vaude does­n’t just embody “the spir­it of moun­tain sports” it embraces their respon­si­bil­i­ty to pro­vide qual­i­ty appar­el in a social­ly and envi­ron­men­tal­ly respon­si­ble envi­ron­ment. They don’t just talk the talk in lead­ing the way to change in regards to man­u­fac­tur­ing accord­ing to the high­est stan­dards of envi­ron­men­tal capa­bil­i­ties. Mem­bers of The Clymb can save up to 55% off Vaude appar­el for men and women now.

You can also shop our Canari, Slum­ber­jack, and Sock­Guy events. Time is run­ning out for one deal though: exclu­sive The Clymb tees won’t be around for much longer. Now’s the time to pur­chase one get your whole order to ship for free.

And there’s always time to stop by Face­book or Twit­ter with your ques­tions, sug­ges­tions, and to get inside info on upcom­ing events.

With their world-inspired designs, prAna has made cloth­ing that lends itself to all kinds of pas­sions from climb­ing to yoga. Today we have a selec­tion of prAna wom­en’s appar­el that includes vests, jack­ets, capris and more. Shop the prAna event at up to 60% off here.

Remem­ber those met­al lunch box­es we used as kids? Well, our oth­er fea­tured brand today, Aladdin, pro­duced the first char­ac­ter licensed lunch box in the 1950’s. It has since evolved to pro­vide recy­cled and recy­clable mugs, water bot­tles, and food con­tain­ers, prov­ing that sus­tain­abil­i­ty can be styl­ish. Our first Aladdin event fea­tures func­tion­al water bot­tles at up to 60% off.

And there’s still time to save on Cha­co san­dals for men and women, Sher­pani bags, and lucy activewear.

Don’t for­get we’re always on Face­book and Twit­ter, avail­able to answer ques­tions about these or upcom­ing events. Also, today we’ll have some fun brand triv­ia worth Clymb cred­it. Don’t miss it!

Check out prAna in motion at this year’s Out­door Retailer:

You may have read about our part­ner­ship with Green­Ship­ping. We talk about it a lot. Maybe it’s because they’re good peo­ple doing the right thing, maybe because vis­it­ing their office gives us the chance to spend an after­noon in Hood Riv­er (quite pos­si­bly heav­en on earth), or maybe it’s because they’re anoth­er Ore­gon start-up try­ing to build some­thing from scratch. We relate. In any event, I want­ed to share a lit­tle about their oper­a­tion and the peo­ple behind it. Green­Ship­ping was start­ed ear­li­er this year by Ken White­man with one idea in mind: to give con­sumers and busi­ness­es access to an easy, cost effec­tive, and accu­rate way to make ship­ping a green process. Amen to that. As our shop­ping habits become more con­nect­ed to the web, these guys are con­nect­ing our dol­lars to the devel­op­ment of renew­able ener­gy sources.

Green­Ship­ping is mak­ing all of this hap­pen through a high­ly sophis­ti­cat­ed car­bon cal­cu­la­tor that ana­lyzes a pack­age’s weight, size, des­ti­na­tion and mode of trans­port. A cal­cu­la­tion is made and cred­its are paid through Green­Ship­ping to The Bon­neville Envi­ron­men­tal Foun­da­tion. BEF is a non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tion invest­ing in new wind pow­er projects that replace pow­er gen­er­at­ed by dirt­i­er sources like coal-fired pow­er plants. The off­sets are inde­pen­dent­ly cer­ti­fied through Green‑e® Cli­mate, a non-prof­it con­sumer pro­tec­tion pro­gram that ensures that these off­sets rep­re­sent real, per­ma­nent, and beyond busi­ness-as-usu­al green­house gas emis­sion reduc­tions. The Clymb choos­es Green­Ship­ping to ensure that every order we ship is car­bon neutral.