Partnership Uses Music to Generate Fans for Public Lands

The following story is from guest contributor Betsy Mortensen, Co-Founder of Sustain Music & Nature.

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This January, Utah’s Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge starred in its own music video. Indie musician Conner Youngblood created a song inspired by the refuge during a week-long visit last autumn. The project was part of a new songwriting series, known as Songscapes - public land songwriting retreats facilitated by nonprofit organization, Sustain Music & Nature.

Sustain Music & Nature envisions the music industry playing a greater role in promoting environmental stewardship and awareness. As part of this vision, Songscapes partner public lands with bands in order to create new music inspired by protected landscapes. The emotional pull of music is a great way to bring attention to public lands, especially to audiences that are hard to reach. Music reaches across borders, whether political, class, race, age, urban or rural. Sustain believes the celebratory nature of Songscapes, the cultural influence of respected bands, and the emotional connection of music addresses gaps in the modern conservation movement. Songscapes aim to generate new audiences for public lands by luring people in with moving music and beautiful music videos.

The collaborative effort of Songscapes brings together vastly different players, not unlike IWJV’s Partnering to Conserve Sagebrush Rangelands! Each Songscape partnership consists of a band (and their team of managers, producers and publicists), a public land partner (whether federal, state or nonprofit), and Sustain. Working across the different organizational frameworks and interests is a difficult task. In the latest Songscape, the planning process included USFWS Mountain-Prairie staff, Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge staff, Utah Public Radio, Southwest Airline’s in-flight magazine publishers, videographers, photographers, authors, Conner Youngblood’s management team, and Sustain’s board. While navigating such a diverse partnership was time intensive, Youngblood created an absolutely beautiful and moving song, which has reached an estimated seven million people! Much of the online response consists of listeners thanking Youngblood for introducing them to a beautiful place they didn’t know existed.

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A key part of orchestrating a successful Songscape is finding the right musicians. Youngblood was a perfect match - the Yale-educated, Linkin Park collaborator, has a deep love of the outdoors and birds. Prior to the Songscape at Bear River, Sustain partnered folk-rock band, River Whyless, with Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. The band has been talking about their time in the sagebrush on stage ever since. River Whyless even created a new instrument to mimic the sound of lekking sage grouse for their Songscape song, Hold Me To Ya. The song was later incorporated into a Wyoming educational exhibit that toured schools around the state, raising awareness and appreciation for sage grouse.

Songscapes are an exciting intersection of art, activism, collaboration and education. To watch the Songscape music videos and learn more about Sustain Music & Nature, visit:

Hannah Nikonow