The Braided River Story: Activating Conservation Impact for Public Lands

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, we explore the origins of Mountaineers Books conservation imprint Braided River - and why books are key to preserving and protecting our environment.
Mountaineers Books Mountaineers Books
June 09, 2020

Since its earliest years, Mountaineers Books titles like The North Cascades (1964) and The Alpine Lakes (1971) have influenced the creation of national parks and protected wilderness areas through images and stories. But in 2003, something incredible happened.

Our book Arctic National Wildlife Refuge: Seasons of Life
and Land was held up on the Senate floor in a historic vote
(52-48) to save the Arctic Refuge (ANWR) from energy
development. Senators who only knew of this place as lines
on a map could see the vibrant life captured in all seasons
of the year, and not the “blank white nothingness” espoused
by drilling proponents. The book was credited with influencing
the vote. In this moment, Mountaineers Books publisher at the time, Helen Cherullo realized its publishing program had the potential to be a powerful vehicle for supporting critical conservation issues on a national scale.

Thus, Braided River was formed – a unique nonprofit model
merging publishing with education and advocacy, supported
by philanthropy and book sales. Powerful visual storytelling
can transport people to places they might otherwise never see; what we know and come to love, we will protect. Through
Braided River books and programs, and working with
photographers and authors, donors, and grassroots groups,
Mountaineers Books achieves conservation wins like no other
publisher in the country.

We Are Puget Sound: a campaign to save our Salish Sea

The Mountaineers are proud to call Puget Sound home – with
a shared mission to be diligent stewards of our backyard, from
the mountains to the sea. The stunning waters of Puget Sound
are home to two critically endangered and codependent
species: salmon and the southern resident orca whale. The
health of these iconic Northwest species is jeopardized by a
host of environmental issues, from pollution to tanker traffic.

Our 2019 book We Are Puget Sound: Discovering and
Recovering the Salish Sea brought together a powerful
coalition to help address this crisis. Regional Indigenous
tribes, grassroots groups, businesses, and individuals have
joined this campaign to energize and connect citizens with
true solutions as to how they can help protect our ailing Salish Sea. From planting native plants, addressing storm water runoff, to meeting with legislators in Olympia, there are
many ways people can make a difference for our region’s
health. No one action or group can preserve our beautiful
waters – it takes everyone working together. 

Created in partnership with the Washington Environmental
Council's People for Puget Sound program, the ambitious
work defined by this book and campaign will go on for
years to come, long after the initial publication and media
attention. We Are Puget Sound supports citizen education,
engagement, and advocacy work through live events, media,
and later this year, in a photo exhibit hosted at the Seattle
Aquarium. Together, We Are Puget Sound can help restore
and protect salmon and orca habitat in the Salish Sea for
future generations.

Protecting America’s Arctic: from 2003 to today

Home to primordial caribou migrations, Arctic foxes, snowy
owls, and polar bears, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
is one of the wildest places on planet Earth, and is public
land that every American owns. Since its founding, Braided
River has connected the American public to the remote
nesting and calving grounds of the Arctic Refuge’s coastal
plain through images and books like Alaska National Wildlife
Refuge: Seasons of Life and Land and We are the Arctic
— and supported impact campaigns around films like the
IMAX® production To the Arctic. Our photographers' images
of wild caribou and polar bears have been featured in the
New York Times, CNN, and in hundreds of other national and
international outlets, as well as on the floor of the Senate
and natural history museum exhibits across the country.

In 2020, Braided River hasn’t slowed down, and will see
the themes in our books supporting an IMAX® film due
out in the spring of 2021 and a television documentary this
summer featuring the videography work of Florian Schulz, a
Braided River photographer and National Geographic fellow.
The film will follow his multi-year adventure documenting
the wildlife of the refuge, even bringing his two young sons
and wife along to experience the magic of wild places. The
films are produced by the long-time Braided River supporter
Campion Advocacy Fund and Terra Mater. The two films
and impact campaign will introduce new audiences to the
Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and drive support for its
long-term protection. With the Arctic Refuge under greater
threat than ever and energy lease sales expected this year,
the timing for these impactful films and multimedia impact
campaign is a significant opportunity.

Building relationships that drive key conservation wins

The fight to save our last remaining wild places grows
more urgent every day. Our decades-long relationships
with strategic grassroots organizations is the Braided River
super power. When critical public land is endangered, we
know who to call for strategic guidance, and can act as a
key ally to bring the beauty and importance of these places
to the public.

Braided River’s partnerships with the Alaska Wilderness
League, American Bird Conservancy, Washington
Environmental Council, Audubon, Conservation Northwest,
Woods Hole Research Center, Sierra Club, World Wildlife
Fund, and many other distinguished conservation
organizations enable us to have the information we need
to be powerful convening agents in the conservation
landscape.

Braided River’s images and stories have influenced desired
conservation outcomes, reaching millions of Americans
during the past 15 years through books, media, educational
events, museum exhibits, grass-roots outreach, companion
films, and more. These books have played a role in protecting
tens of millions of acres of public land, building community,
and reaching broader audiences beyond the conservation
community to preserve wilderness for all to enjoy.

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“Braided River’s books demonstrate the extraordinary power of visual storytelling to inspire support and motivate action to protect wild places across North America. We need that kind of storytelling more than ever as wildlife and natural ecosystems face existential threats from development, climate change, and the apathy that comes with unawareness.”
-Jon Hoekstra, Mountains to Sound Greenway's Executive Director and Braided River Board Chair

MAIN IMAGE by Florian Schulz.


This article originally appeared in our Summer 2020 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive.