Back in December, President Obama designated two new national monuments, protecting Bears Ears Buttes in southeastern Utah, and Nevada’s Golden Butte, northeast of Las Vegas, covering a total of 1.35 million acres of federal land.
The move in Utah was a contentious one, as Utah Republicans–who also worked to protect much of the land surrounding Bears Ears, just not all of it–cried foul over “[politicizing] a long-simmering conflict.”
Last month, Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed a resolution challenging the new designation, calling on President Trump to rescind the national monument status from Bears Ears. That move sparked the largest outdoor-recreation companies in the U.S. to pull their official trade show out of Salt Lake City, the trade show’s home for the last 20 years, in protest.
At the time Patagonia launched a campaign to have supporters flood Governor Herbert’s office with calls. Now the brand is launching a series of 10 360-degree films to raise awareness of the cultural and recreational significance of Bears Ears, through immersive stories from Native American tribal leaders and outdoor athletes. It also includes a call-to-action to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, asking him to stand up for public lands and defend the Bears Ears National Monument.
Originally, the films were produced as a celebratory gesture to the new national monument designation. Patagonia has been involved with lobbying for the protection of Bears Ears since 2013, supporting the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, and grassroots organizations like Friends of Cedar Mesa and Utah Diné Bikéyah. Back in 2015, the brand produced a film on how climber and conservation activist Josh Ewing turned a passion for climbing into a passion for protecting Bears Ears.
But in light of Governor Herbert’s actions, the brand decided to use these new films in the fight. “We just knew we had to switch gears for it to defend this place, and public lands across the country,” says Patagonia’s vice-president of marketing Cory Bayers. “We had done some work with Google 360 technology a couple of years ago, but here we thought it could really bring this story and place to life in an exciting new way. It’s as close as w can get people there without actually being there, to get them to understand what kind of place this is, what we’re trying to protect for all Americans.”
The brand rarely invests in mainstream paid advertising, but this issue has moved it to buy digital ads on with The New York Times, and sponsor PBS NewsHour, which is the first time the company has created a broadcast TV commercial. For Bayers, it just reflects the sense of urgency around defending public lands.
“The goal is super simple, to share it with as many people as we can to help them to understand what’s at stake,” he says. “This is a flashpoint for us. You don’t have many second or third chances with issues like this. Usually, it’s very grassroots, sharing content over social media, events, just to get the word out. But here, the clock is ticking, the urgency is there. We’re still doing all our usual things, but we need to get as many people aware of this as we can. We don’t want to look back a few months down the road and ask what more could we have done?”
Bayers is optimistic about the response. The company has seen a surge in interest and participation in its activism around various environmental causes since the election. In November, when Patagonia pledged to donate all its Black Friday sales to grassroots environmental groups, they expected to hit $2 million. It was $10 million. Bayers says he thinks the election has lit a fire under many people to get more involved.
“We could see in our stores, on social media, and elsewhere, that people were waking up and those who may not have acted in the past have been driven to action,” he says. “It’s ratcheted everything up, a lot of people are starting to realize that if you want to protect or change something it’s up to all of us. We’re hoping to tap into the same passion with this Bears Ears campaign.”
The new campaign is exactly the kind of work Bayers talked about last fall when he told me that the brand would be looking to double down on its activist roots, and that’s still the goal. “We have a community around our stores and brand–the people who participate in sports on these public lands–that we have a responsibility to,” says Bayers. “We have a responsibility to shout about it and be involved.”