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Wild and Scenic Film Festival highlights conservation with Yvon Chouinard

Video by Chapman Croskell




Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, speaks about environmental conservation during the Wild and Scenic Film Festival. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

The Colorado State University and Fort Collins community gathered Friday evening for the third annual Wild and Scenic Film Festival. Hosted by the Larimer County Conservation Corps, this event featured nine environmentally-focused short films on topics ranging from the salmon run in Alaska to Navajo traditions at Canyon de Chelley National Monument.

The event, held in the Lory Student Center Theatre, was sold out several weeks in advance and was popular enough that scalpers scouted the front lobby and were eventually asked to leave by event staff.

The largest draw for many attendees this year was the appearance of the enigmatic founder of the clothing brand Patagonia, Yvon Chouinard. Patagonia sponsored several of the films featured in the festival lineup, and Chouinard was invited to speak to the audience as well as join a panel of water experts for a discussion on coldwater fisheries and conservation.

Chouinard, a notoriously opinionated and ethereal figure, spoke candidly with the audience about climate change and his pessimistic attitude towards conservation.

“You know, like all the climate change deniers and politicians say, I’m not a scientist,” Chouinard said. “But I’ve been around. I’ve been fishing for 70 years. So the talk I’m going to give tonight is pretty depressing. It’s basically the fate of cold-water fisheries. And I’ve seen a lot of the things I’m talking about tonight. If you get too depressed just walk out, it’s okay.”

Rob Novak, CSU Warner College of Natural Resources Director of Communications welcomes the audience to the Wild and Scenic Film Fetival on Septmeber 15. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

He went on to read excerpts of an essay from the most recent Patagonia catalogue, highlighting ocean acidification, warming of rivers in Russia and the high fish mortality rates associated with that, drought conditions in California, invasive species and dams.

“There are 40,000 useless dams in America, and we’re gonna build more,” Chouinard said. “We’ve built one dam a day since Thomas Jefferson was president.”

The first film of the evening, The Super Salmon, highlighted one of those dams on the Susitna River in Alaska. The film was created with the help of a $25,000 grant from Patagonia, and within two weeks of its release, the plans for the dam were halted.


Chouinard has funded many such projects and continues to donate 1% of all Patagonia sales to environmental issues.

“I’ve found that the cure for depression is action,” Chouinard said. “I mean, I’m the world’s biggest pessimist about the state of the planet, but I’m a happy person. I can sleep at night because I’m doing what I can.”

He summed up his message with his belief that the most important thing we can do to promote conservation is to teach young people how to fish.

John Hayes, the Dean of the Warner College of Natural Resources, listens to the discussion panel speak on environmental conservation at the Wild and Scenic Film Festival. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

“If you don’t have a close connection with our rivers, you’re not gonna care,” Chouinard said. “And best of all, don’t vote for those dumb-ass, climate change denying politicians.”

The panel consisted of Greg Gerlich, the assistant regional director of Fish and Aquatic Conservation in Region 6 of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and a CSU alum; James Iacino, the president and CEO of the Denver-based Seattle Fish Company; Kurt Fausch, an expert in stream ecology and professor emeritus at CSU; and Russ Schnitzer, the Natural Resources Program officer for the Gates Family Foundation.

Dr. John Hayes, the dean of the Warner College of Natural Resources, moderated the dialogue and began with large-scale questions about what can be done regarding climate change. The questions narrowed in scope throughout the discussion, eventually garnering advice for students passionate about conservation and searching for their own paths.

“I don’t even know what I’m gonna do when I grow up,” Chouinard said. “I’ve got a high school degree in auto mechanics, so you’re all way ahead of me…I never dreamed I would be a businessman for God’s sake. I wanted to be a fur trapper.”

Chouinard emphasized the importance of merging business with environmental activism and encouraged students not to be afraid. “Take a step and try everything,” Chouinard said.

The other panel members echoed Chouinards thoughts, encouraging students to stay motivated and find their passions. Schnitzer offered advice on the struggle many conservationists face.

“Don’t get burned out,” Schnitzer said. “Take the time to fuel your passions. Get dirty, take the time off. Bag peaks, skinny dip, see what there is to see, and continue to keep that fire going. Just stay lit for the environment.”

The films varied in their message, from “Dream Day’s” lighthearted attempt to encapsulate the perfect recreation day in California to “Wasfia,” illustrating the first Bangladeshi woman to bag all Seven Summits, shot entirely on an iPhone.

This year’s festival had a particularly political edge to it, showing films like “Think Like a Scientist: Boundaries,” which focused upon the wildlife using borderlands near the Mexico-US border fence.

The night ended with a profile of former US President Jimmy Carter, a one-time avid outdoorsman who made the first descent of a dangerous stretch of the Chatooga River in an open canoe.

The Wild and Scenic Film Festival took place in the Lory Student Center theater on Septmeber 15. (Jack Starkebaum | Collegian)

The audience raised rallying cries after many of the films, and many were tearing up during the more poignant moments. Drawn by Chouinard’s panache and a passion for conservation, attendees received a large dose of pessimism pierced with the slightest shards of hope.

“My wife got on the computer – she uses a computer like weapon – and got hold of every single hunting organization in America and sent them information about the threat to public lands. And suddenly, you’ve got these redneck hunters all cooperating with tree huggers. And with fly fishermen – the most elite of the elite,” Chouinard said, calling attention to the collaboration and cooperation that will be required to continue to help the planet.

More about Patagonia’s Environmental Efforts: 

  • Donated all Black Friday sales in 2016 to environmental issues
  • Uses recycled polyester in all Synchilla fleece
  • In 1996, made the switch to all organic cotton products
  • Founded Patagonia Provisions, a food production company aimed at reducing environmental harm

Collegian reporter Casey Setash can be reached at or on Twitter at @caseylovesbirds.

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