The Power of One: Simon Jackson shares his passion for the planet

By on May 7, 2013

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Perhaps Simon Jackson’s story is more about how the power of one experience can make a lasting impression than it is about how the power of one voice, one person with a passion, can make a difference.50813cover2

Certainly Jackson’s story brings to life the simple truth that a single step can lead to big results. Jackson learned this when he was seven years old and used his voice on behalf of the endangered Kodiak bear in Alaska. He wrote letters to the top leaders of Canada and the United States requesting protection for the threatened bear. When he received a reply, he knew his voice, when added with others, could make a difference.

So when he learned of the plight of the white Kermode, or Spirit Bear, in his homeland of Canada, he didn’t hesitate to act. He founded the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition at the age of 13, which sent more than 25,000 letters to the premier of British Columbia – eventually convincing the provincial government to protect two-thirds of the Spirit Bear’s habitat. The six million members of the Spirit Bear Youth Coalition comprise the largest youth-led environmental organization in the world. By the time Jackson was 17, he was named Time magazine’s “hero for the planet.”

Jackson recently expanded upon his nearly two-decade journey on behalf of all things wild by partnering with The Murie Center and The WILD Foundation to form CoalitionWILD, which is an initiative to inspire and empower people younger than 30 to create a wilder world.

It’s the following synchronistic story Jackson shared in a telephone interview that exemplifies how seemingly disconnected experiences converged, fueling his passion for all bears including the Spirit Bear.

50813cover4“When my mother was very young, she read the book, ‘Biography of a Grizzly’ by Ernest Thompson Seton and was captivated by it. It’s a book she read in her childhood that she never forgot,” Jackson said.

The book was written in 1899, and Jackson’s mother had been trying to find copy of it when she went to meet his father’s mother in distant England. There on the bookshelf was a copy of “Biography of a Grizzly.”

“It’s the first book she read to me when I was growing up,” Jackson said, and it piqued his imagination. The book is about a Montana grizzly bear that dies in Lamar Valley in Yellowstone.

The first bear Jackson saw was a grizzly cub while on a camping trip to Yellowstone when he was seven. “When I came home from that trip it was that bear that led me to raise the money to save an endangered bear in Alaska and led me to believe that my voice mattered, and I could make a difference,” Jackson said.

“I kept returning to Yellowstone as it is a place that I dearly loved. When I was 13, I was photographing a grizzly bear which turned out to be the same bear I had seen when I was seven years old. It was a cub then and now it was a full-grown adult. Many people know this bear now as Scarface,” he said.

While Jackson was photographing this bear, a couple approached his family because of their British Columbia license plates and told them about the Spirit Bear that lived only in that province.50813cover3

“That’s what set off this nearly two-decade journey on behalf of the Spirit Bear,” Jackson said. “And every year this campaign has gone on, I’ve gone back to Yellowstone and had a chance to see Scarface. It’s amazing how time and time again in my life everything comes back to Yellowstone and in many ways everything comes back that one particular grizzly bear who has been with me throughout this entire journey.”

Jackson heard Scarface, now 23, has emerged from hibernation this spring, which has been confirmed by the bear management office in Yellowstone.

“That’s what catalyzed this. It’s pretty incredible. It all started back with my mom when she was a kid, in an area I didn’t know about – but it planted the seeds to my passion for bears,” Jackson said.

More from the interview with Simon Jackson is recounted below.

Simon Jackson

Simon Jackson

JH Weekly: In our own Yellowstone Ecosystem, we face similar challenges that you do with the Spirit Bear in protecting our wildlife: There are detractors, opposing opinions and of course, advocates all expressing their collective arguments and working to promote their causes. How do we raise the level of consciousness for the parties involved to awaken true potential in order to move toward harmony instead of destruction?

Simon Jackson: In opposing issues we’re quick to accuse someone of doing something wrong. And I think often the issues are very, very gray, and the agendas at play complicated, and it’s not necessarily right versus wrong, but different variations of right and wrong. And I really believe first and foremost in the importance of having empathy for your opposition, understanding why they passionately believe what they believe and finding ways to work with them, finding commonalities between parties to build relationships on trust and friendly dialogue; and finding areas where you can come together and build from there.

For me it’s the subtle difference between balance and compromise. I think too often, especially with land-use issues, the parties are forced to compromise on their bottom lines to achieve a politically expedient solution and often it’s sold as a win-win, but in reality it’s a lose-lose. And I think where we need to go with society is to find balance and have each party recognize what their bottom line is, what they can’t water down, and equally, how they can find innovative solutions that can achieve that goal.

JHW: Among conservationists, who are current leaders or well-known activists you admire and respect? How have they influenced your own work?

SJ: I think probably first and foremost, Dr. Jane Goodall. She became not only a mentor but a friend to me, and she’s been an invaluable supporter of the Spirit Bear campaign; and she is someone to me who not only talks the talk, but walks the walk and is a genuine leader and source of inspiration. She is someone who has imparted invaluable advice over the years.

Beyond that, individuals like conservationists Harvey Locke and Vance Martin and more recently I look to a local conservationist for you, John Mobeck at The Murie Center. And more broadly, the former mayor of Vancouver Sam Sullivan, and leaders who I have had a chance to work with and with whom I’ve collaborated with over the years.

I believe in two-way mentorship. One can be mentored at any age. I think it is important to have a lot of these kinds of relationships in my life, and I think aside from high-profile leaders like Jane Goodall, it is an individual who has inspired me, often. And on days when I feel like I want to give up, I’ll get an email from someone who was inspired to take on a project of their own and are having great success. To me it’s an individual who is willing to act on a great idea that has more often than not been a greater source of inspiration to me instead of a political or academic or thought leader in that regard.

JHW: What has been your greatest lesson so far when facing setbacks?

SJ: The biggest thing is to not give up, but to learn from failure and use it as a springboard to success. I try to be honest with myself about challenges and what role I played. I check my ego at the door and try to surround myself with a team of mentors who have been gracious to share their time with me. Oftentimes they’ll say, “That didn’t work,” or “You made a mistake.” I can embrace challenges and failures, and I try to learn from them to build a stronger campaign.

JHW: How do you live in your everyday life as a conservation-minded individual?

SJ: We need to understand the human condition: its essence is to make mistakes. In the conservation movement, we sometimes put forth that we have to be perfect. I admit I am human. I still make poor choices. I may not be perfect, but this is what I am doing, and what each of us can do – demand to be better everyday so we are moving the box. I try to be cognizant of the actions I take, simple things. And I try to support businesses that are doing good. The government can’t react as quickly as businesses can. And businesses can help us raise the ecological bar.

JHW: In your “TedxYouth@Toronto” presentation about a year ago, you say that one voice can make a difference as long as there is passion behind it. Is it ever too early, or too late, to make a difference? Why do you think youth have a unique advantage?

SJ: Of course it’s never too late. Everyone makes a difference every single day of their lives. All ages make up the fabric of our society. The more people who participate in a healthy debate and raise discourse, the more we can find hope and solutions.

Young people are uniquely positioned – and have a special advantage. When a young person does something positive and unique, they get a lot of attention. Part of the reason our campaign grew to the size it is was because I was a kid, and I took full advantage of that.

Youth have a fresh, unique voice, and they have to earnestly and passionately at a young age express it. It is received more authentically and there’s a better opportunity to be heard.

JHW: If you could say one thing to the entire world, especially kids, what would it be?

SJ: Find your passion, follow it, and don’t let it go. Start small when you have to start, but don’t give up on that impossible dream. Almost every obstacle can be overcome; every challenge facing the world can be solved. But it is up to the individual to do their part every single day, small and big acts, and working together that will create a better world. And that all begins with finding your passion and realizing what you are good at, what you love, where you derive joy and finding a way to use that to benefit and better the world.

Simon Jackson presents “Harnessing the Power of One,” 7 p.m. Friday at the National Museum of Wildlife Art. Eco-Fair, noon to 5 p.m. Saturday at Snow King Ball Field. $5 suggested donation, each. 203-2454; jacksonecofair.org.


About Teresa Griswold

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