Over 70 people packed town hall in response to a plan to rezone parts of Jackson in order to allow more hotels and commercial development. Some waved signs declaring “Housing not Hotels” and similar sentiments as they took turns sharing their opinions about the project, and voicing their concerns to their elected representatives, one by one.
Skye Schell, executive director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, was in attendance at that 2015 meeting, and he recalls it being one of the most memorable experiences he’s had during his four-year tenure with the organization. He remembers seeing people of all ages taking time out of their busy schedules to share their opinions and make their voices heard. “It was a powerful image that still sticks with me,” he says.
In his role with the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, he works to protect not only wild places, but also the community’s character and spirit. “At the Alliance, we’re fighting to protect both sides of the equation—a sense of community and this truly wild place,” Schell says.
One of Schell’s focal points is the organization’s Conservation Leadership Institute, an annual 12-week leadership development program which teaches people how to plan conservation campaigns, build teams, communicate, develop strategy, and create effective change at a community
level. Graduates of the program help lead campaigns, such as local efforts to create safe wildlife crossings, encouraging people to utilize bear-resistant trash cans, and other projects.
“I watch people come to the Conservation Leadership Institute who really want to make a difference,” he says. “They love this place, the wildlife, they see things they want to change and don’t know the levers to make that change.” He says after learning and gaining hands-on experience, he sees many of these program graduates taking on leadership roles, such as teaching others how to make effective comments in front of the Town Council.
Schell also finds it powerful to see multiple generations come together and share their conservation knowledge. He points to a time when Vance Carruth, one of the leaders of the Wildlife Crossings campaign, took time to come into the Conservation Leadership Institute and share his knowledge with attendees, most of whom were decades younger than him. Schell says 50 years earlier Carruth was learning about conservation from Mardy Murie herself, known as the “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement.” Watching this intergenerational exchange of knowledge is especially moving for Schell.
“Watching the unbroken chain of conservation going from generation to generation is powerful,” he says. “It’s emotional seeing young folks learning so much from an elder in the community.”