Conservation Group Taps Into Experience, Passion - and Humor - of Older Women

Jul 18, 2016

What do you call a group of older women advocating for land conservation? Great Old Broads for Wilderness, of course. No joke. Although humor - along with knowledge, experience, and passion - is a key ingredient in the organization's work.

The group formed in 1989, after Utah Senator Orrin Hatch opposed a proposal for a new wilderness area because the "aged and infirm" wouldn't be able access it. A self-described "feisty bunch of lady hikers" wanted to prove Hatch wrong, and make sure decision-makers knew elders wanted wilderness areas, whether or not they could use them.

"They wanted to be sure that they were doing work as activists - as advocates - for wild public lands," executive director Shelley Silbert says of the group's founders, "but that they were also doing work together in developing women's leadership and just enjoying each other's company."

In addition to advocating for the protection of public lands, Great Old Broads has taken on the related issue of climate change. As a result of extensive mining and extraction activities on government-owned property, Silbert says a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions can actually be traced back to public lands. National Parks and other protected areas are also feeling the impacts of climate change, from uncontrollable wildfires in the West, to sea level rise and storm damage along the East Coast.

"This is something that we need to be paying a lot of attention to, and those connections have to be made," says Silbert. "Whether you're dealing with fracking in your community, whether you're dealing with a coal mine or not, you're still going to be seeing the impacts of climate change. So we have to think nationally."