Like many Montanans, Wes Swaffar likes beer. He also has a personal and professional affinity for trees, as the reforestation and partnership director for the National Forest Foundation in Missoula.
And now his two loves are coming together, courtesy of a new partnership with Anheuser-Busch and the nonprofit National Forest Foundation. In light of the foundation’s initiative to plant 50 million trees in America’s national forests in the next five years, the beer brewing giant has agreed to pay for planting a tree for every case of its new Cerveza Patagonia lager that’s sold.
The company also chose Swaffar as its first #Cervezas4YourService honoree for his efforts to spearhead the ambitious planting campaign. Anheuser-Busch has pledged to donate $200,000 toward the effort, which should cover the cost of at least 200,000 trees by 2020.
“This is to honor the heroes that restore the land that restores us,” said Harry Lewis, Anheuser-Busch’s vice president of new brands. “We wanted to recognize and thank him not just for his dedication but for all he has done in helping the forests.”
Swaffar noted that people don’t have to buy an entire case to have the effort go toward the tree planting; instead, each six-pack sold counts toward the case.
“Their framework of buy a case, plant a tree is they did the math and they have the back end accountability to make sure their method is right,” Swaffar said. “I’m coordinating with the Forest Service nationally to identify those projects they would like to fund, making sure we’re planting the right number of trees in the right places.
“We have 193 million acres of Forest Service land and more than 1 million acres is in urgent need of reforestation, largely due to things like wildfires. … This will help our mission and raise awareness, too. That’s highly valuable.”
Swaffar grew up in Calistoga, California, hiking, backpacking and camping with his family. He worked seasonally for the Forest Service for a few years in jobs ranging from wilderness ranger to trail crew leader on the Lolo National Forest, and “that set the hook deep.”
“I became enamored with public lands and was humbled by the Forest Service employees that work hard every day to provide an invaluable asset,” Swaffar said.
He joined the National Forest Foundation in 2012, after earning a master’s degree in environmental science and policy from Northern Arizona University.
“This work is pretty personal for me in a lot of ways,” Swaffar said. “I spend damn near every weekend on the national forest hunting, fishing, taking my dog for a walk, and exploring. That’s why I moved to Montana; I fell in love here. I felt compelled.”
He understands that some people may question taking money from large corporations. But Swaffar is quick to note that the foundation is careful with its partnerships, and has declined some that were proposed. Along with Cerveza Patagonia, Busch Beer, The Starbucks Foundation, and Lands’ End are some of the larger partners in the tree-planting effort.
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“A lot of corporations do have a bad name, and I will not take a position on Anheuser-Busch. All I have seen is they have been above-board with their actions,” Swaffar said. “I think a lot of companies are noticing you can’t do business and turn a blind eye to sustainability. Americans are too educated about environmental concerns to allow companies to operate and neglect social sustainability. I see this effort as them helping and being identified as being a good thing for their brand and it’s structured to be a great thing for our national forests.”
Lewis said Cerveza Patagonia is a lager is brewed in the United States using Cascade hops from the Patagonia region of South America. It currently is available on draft, and in six- and 12-packs in stores in the Pacific Northwest, including in Missoula. While currently not available in cans, Lewis said that’s anticipated in the future, especially for places like Montana where glass isn’t widely recyclable.
“With Cerveza Patagonia, we want to inspire people to get outdoors,” Lewis said. “Beer drinkers can enjoy a premium lager with an authentic South American heritage to help quench their thirst, and feel good about doing their part to protect their local forests.”
In particular, the company wants to get Swaffar outdoors a little bit more often. So as part of his being the first #Cerveza4YourService honoree, they’re sending him and his wife, Emily Kern, and his parents Greg and Megan Swaffar to Patagonia, the namesake of Cerveza Patagonia.
The company surprised Swaffar with the award as part of a promotional video they were making in support of the tree planting effort. In the video, Swaffar talks a little about his background and his passion for the national forests. In the end, he’s seated on a rock, reading a letter from his parents on how proud they are with his giving back to the natural landscape.
When he gets to the part in the letter announcing the trip, the video captures his parents walking up behind him with large smiles on their face. An astounded Swaffar holds the letter and blurts out “What the (bleep)? What the (bleep)?” in surprise.
“They wanted to do a human interest story about someone that works hard in support of our forests but is not widely recognized,” Swaffar said. “I had to work with a short turnaround to get the permits to film commercially on the Lolo forest and coordinate a bunch of logistics.
“I don’t like to talk about myself, and at the end of the day I was pretty exhausted. We had filmed for two days. I had no idea they would award me the trip and my parents would step out of the forest. It was pretty amazing.”
The brand is encouraging others to share details of heroes they know who work hard to protect the outdoors, to be recognized in a similar way, by going to CervezaPatagonia.com.
“It was a no-brainer wanting Wes to be the first hero that we recognized,” Lewis said. “We think more and more people like Wes deserve to be recognized; they don’t get enough recognition for restoration and preservation efforts.”