Conservationists Optimistic for Utah Redrock Protections 

Photo Credit Tim Peterson

The redrock landscapes of Southern Utah have long been a conservation battleground. If you have hiked the region’s labyrinthine canyons, floated its sublime rivers, climbed its splitter cracks, or explored its remarkable archaeological sites, you know that millions of acres of federal land in Southern Utah should be protected. Though famous for its “Mighty Five” national parks, Utah has fewer acres of designated Wilderness than any other state in the Western US. And those “mighty” national parks add up to a mere 835,000 acres combined.

So, when Utah Congressman Rob Bishop proposed several years ago to develop a massive public lands bill that would protect Wilderness, but also provide assurances to energy developers and other stakeholders who traditionally oppose conservation, people from every ideological corner came to the negotiating table. Bishop’s proposal became known as the Public Lands Initiative, or PLI for short. For years, the PLI seemed like an elusive Holy Grail for Utah conservation.

Rep. Bishop released a long-awaited draft in January, and the proposal was roundly panned by the conservation community for including too many unacceptable giveaways to energy, mining, and motorized recreation interests.  The proposal did include 2.2 million acres of new Wilderness and 300 miles of Wild and Scenic River protections. But along with the protections come 2.6 million acres of energy development zones, the transfer of more than 55,000 acres of BLM land to the state and local municipalities, and granting Utah authority over thousands of miles of roads – many through national parks and Wilderness Study Areas – that would lead to the proliferation of unregulated motorized recreation in these special places. Scott Groene, Executive Director of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance called the draft an “un-Wilderness bill.” Most in the conservation community pronounced the January draft of the PLI DOA.

Throughout the evolution of the PLI, another conservation measure was coming together that did not require an act of Congress. Five Native American tribes in Utah united to develop a proposal for a Bears Ears National Monument, named for a prominent geologic feature on the landscape. The proposal asks President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect the 1.9-million-acre area primarily to preserve its significant cultural resources. The proposal area holds more than 100,000 archaeological sites and 18 Wilderness Study Areas and Inventoried Roadless Areas. The designation would protect important outdoor recreation opportunities like climbing in Indian Creek, paddling the San Juan River, and backpacking in Grand Gulch.

While conservationists were cautiously optimistic about the PLI, the Bears Ears proposal became a solid “Plan B” for securing significant protection in the region. Many preferred the legislative path because of the controversial nature of national monument proclamations in Utah. But, when Rep. Bishop released his draft PLI, most in the conservation community shifted their efforts to asking that President Obama designate Bears Ears as a monument.

Rep. Bishop has heard the criticism of his draft PLI, and has promised to release a revised draft that addresses some of the conservation concerns. Like the original draft, the re-write is much anticipated, but slow to arrive. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the Obama presidency. If he is to designate Bears Ears, he will need to act soon. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has said she will visit Utah this Summer, presumably with the Bears Ears on her mind and agenda. It will be interesting to see which of these two roads leads to permanent protection for special lands in Southern Utah.

For our part, The Conservation Alliance has made several grants to organizations working on the PLI. More recently, we have funded the lead organizations behind the Bears Ears campaign. Our perspective has always been that we need to see more protected lands in Southern Utah. It now appears inevitable that one way or another – either through the PLI or the Bears Ears National Monument – Utah will soon have another spectacular protected landscape.

ONDA Receives $10,000 Discretionary Grant

South Fork Owyhee trip 2006. Photo Credit:  Chad Case

The Conservation Alliance board of directors approved a $10,000 discretionary grant to Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA) to support the group’s effort to secure permanent protection for Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands. ONDA is the driving force behind a coalition campaign to pass legislation to protect roughly two million acres of high desert and river canyons as Wilderness and National Conservation Area. If Congress fails to move legislation, the coalition hopes President Obama will protect the landscape as a national monument.

Oregon’s Owyhee Canyonlands are in the Southeastern corner of the state, bordering Idaho and Nevada. In 2009, Idaho protected 500,000 acres of its piece of the Owyhee as Wilderness. The region is known for its world-class whitewater rafting, hunting, fishing, and general remoteness and solitude.

The Conservation Alliance board has the authority to make discretionary grants not to exceed $10,000 to projects with an urgent and time-sensitive need. This is a crucial year for the Owyhee campaign, justifying the discretionary funding. We have also funded The Wilderness Society and Conservation Lands Foundation for their respective roles in the effort. We will keep you posted as the campaign progresses.

The Conservation Alliance Storms Washington, DC

Kelly Neel (REI), Josie Norris (The Conservation Alliance), Senator Maria Cantwell (WA), Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater), Katherine Hollis (The Mountaineers) and Eric Hayes (Superfeet)

The Conservation Alliance teamed up with Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Alliance to bring more than 100 outdoor business and recreation leaders to Washington, DC to meet with Congressional offices and Obama Administration representatives about the importance of protecting public lands for their recreation and habitat values. The Conservation Alliance’s group totaled 30 people, including the board of directors and additional representatives from member companies.

The group spent a full day learning about conservation policy from DC-based experts and from our grantees working to protect specific places. The group received an update on the political lay-of-the-land, and what conservation initiatives might succeed with Congress and the Obama Administration. The trainings then shifted to a focus on specific conservation issues, including: the Land and Water Conservation Fund; National Monuments; and Wilderness legislation. Because it is the final year of the Obama Administration, we scheduled extra time to discuss proposed National Monuments that the President might designate before he leaves office. That conversation focused on four places: Bears Ears (Utah); Grand Canyon Watershed (Arizona); Owyhee Canyonlands (Oregon); and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (Alaska).

The following day, we broke the large group into smaller lobby teams, which met with Congressional and Obama Administration offices to demonstrate business support for conservation that benefits recreation. Together, the teams completed 30 meetings in one day. Each of the teams reported that their meetings went well, and that they sensed general enthusiasm for conservation, particularly within the Obama Administration. Even with a dysfunctional Congress, we saw reasons to be hopeful. The week before we arrived, the Senate held a hearing for three bills that together would protect more nearly 500,000 acres of Wilderness and 1,000 river miles in Washington, Oregon, and California. Stay tuned!

We coordinated our DC effort with OIA and Outdoor Alliance, co-hosting social events, and integrating each organizations into joint lobby teams. The result was a critical mass of outdoor business and recreation voices in town for a few days. Aside from the trainings and lobby meetings, it was great to see so many outdoor industry leaders in, looking sharp — and sometimes uncomfortable — in fancy clothes.

We are already looking forward to our 2017 trip, which will involve meetings with a brand new Presidential administration, and several new faces in Congress. The work of securing protection for our federal lands requires regular engagement with our elected officials, and it’s great to see our industry stepping up to advocate for conservation and recreation.

Historic Opportunity to Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Photo: US Fish and Wildlife Service

This is a potentially historic year for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. This 20-million-acre landscape, which stretches from the Brooks Range north to the Arctic Ocean, has for decades been the subject of countless battles between the conservation community and proponents of oil drilling. In 1980, Congress designated nearly half of the Arctic Refuge as Wilderness. Left unprotected was a crucial strip of land known as the Coastal Plain, the 1.5-million-acre area where the refuge meets the Beaufort Sea. The State of Alaska and the oil industry have long sought to drill for the known oil deposits under the Coastal Plain, but needs Congress to pass a bill allowing access. At the same time, the conservation community has fought to pass bills through Congress designating the Coastal Plain as Wilderness. The effort to protect the Coastal Plain has never been as close to success as it is today, as a cascade of events over the past two years have moved the effort closer to the finish line.

In January 2015, President Obama formally recommended that Congress designate the Coastal Plain as Wilderness. Shortly thereafter, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) introduced legislation in the House that would secure those protections. In December 2015, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) introduced similar legislation into the Senate. Last month, the House voted on Rep. Huffman’s bill, the first time Congress has ever voted on a Wilderness bill for the Arctic Refuge. (The bill did not pass). Meanwhile, oil prices are so low that oil companies are abandoning plans to drill existing leases in the Arctic Ocean.

As President Obama nears the end of his term, a broad group of stakeholders — including the outdoor industry — are calling on the President to do all he can to give the Coastal Plain the highest level of protection possible. The Conservation Alliance has funded several organizations over the past 15 years to support campaigns to protect the Arctic Refuge. We are now working with Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) to circulate a letter among our respective member companies, asking President Obama to protect the refuge. We expect at least 100 companies to sign that letter. OIA recently released a statement in support of protecting the Arctic Refuge, noting both its recreation and habitat values. In April, The Conservation Alliance, OIA, and Outdoor Alliance will gather in Washington, DC with dozens of representatives from our respective organizations. One goal of that trip is to explain to decision makers why protecting the Arctic Refuge is important.

Looking further ahead, The Conservation Alliance Breakfast on August 4th will feature a presentation by renowned photographer Florian Schulz, whose talk will have a strong Arctic theme. Now is the time to push for Arctic protection.

Take action today and contact us if you would like to become more involved.

The Conservation Alliance Releases 2015 Annual Report

The Conservation Alliance released our 2015 Annual Report this week, providing an overview of the organization’s accomplishments last year. During the year, we contributed a record $1.6 million to 43 conservation organizations throughout North America. The report also includes a summary of the 11 conservation victories Conservation Alliance grantees secured in 2015, protecting 1.1 million acres of land and 13 river miles, acquiring one climbing area, and removing two dams.

It is exciting to tally our results at the end of each year, and 2015 was productive on every front. Thanks to our member companies, we gave away a record amount to organizations that get the job done. Because of those organizations, we celebrate the protection of special wild places from New York to Oregon, and many places in between.

In addition to the funding success, The Conservation Alliance added 27 new members. Each member company pays annual dues into a central fund, and we contribute 100 percent of those dues to conservation organizations.

We continue to attract great companies, large and small, to our organization. We take this growth as a sign that brands value our model of companies working together to protect the wild places so important to their customers.

The Conservation Alliance also hosted six Backyard Collective stewardship projects, and five Wild Drinks gatherings. These events bring employees of member companies together with grantees for a day of field work, or for informational happy hours.

Through our Advocacy Program, The Conservation Alliance provided 17 opportunities for member companies to become directly engaged in the conservation work of grantees. Activities included training business leaders in conservation policy and meeting with Congressional and Obama Administration representatives to explain why conservation is important to outdoor businesses.

We plan to build on our success in 2015 to have an even better year in 2016.

Malheur Militants Are a Threat to America’s Public Lands

BLM Lands in Oregon. Photo: Jim Davis

Over the past month, many people have asked me whether the illegal takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon has an impact on conservation and outdoor recreation. The quick answer is “yes”. The militants are giving voice to the misguided — and unconstitutional — notion that our federal lands should be transferred to the states in which they lie. Our public lands are important for wildlife habitat, and are crucial “infrastructure” for hiking, backpacking, climbing, mountain biking, paddling, skiing, mountaineering, fishing, birding, and hunting. Federal management of these lands is not perfect, but it ensures at least two important things. First, that these lands will forever be held in trust for all Americans. And second, that they will be managed in a consistent way such that rules and regulations that impact the outdoor recreation experience in Oregon will be similar to that in Montana, for example. It’s easy to take these things for granted, but if the militants’ agenda were implemented, it would totally change our relationship to our public lands. (It’s worth noting that, as reported recently in The Oregonian, the militants’ demands “defy logic and law.”)

In the bigger picture, the situation at the Malheur Refuge invites us to ask what is the best use of America’s public lands. Outdoor recreation contributes $646 billion annually to the US economy, and public lands are a big part of that story. At the same time, countless studies demonstrate that protected public lands are an important economic driver for communities near those lands. My favorite of those studies is called West is Best, by Headwaters Economics. Long ago, people thought logging, mining, grazing, and oil and gas drilling was the best use of our public lands. Now, it’s clear that recreation and tourism is a much more lucrative and sustainable economic model. The small town of Oakridge, Oregon — once wholly dependent on logging — has successfully turned itself into a Mecca for mountain biking. Though mountain bike tourism accounts for five percent of the local economy, several business owners expect that number to grow over time. Meanwhile, logging on National Forests around Oakridge is likely to continue to decline. The militants on the Malheur Refuge are looking to the past, when stronger economies lie in a future in which public lands are preserved and managed for habitat and recreation.

Finally, the militants represent the lowest level of public engagement. Armed with firearms and loud voices, they are trying to bully their way to getting what they want. By contrast, The Conservation Alliance funds dozens of organizations who work hard, sometimes for years, following the rules and behaving with common decency to secure better management of our public lands. This work is not sexy and does not attract hordes of media, but it leads to lasting protection for the lands that the federal government manages for all of us. We’re proud to be associated with these organizations, and are confident they will remain standing strong long after the Malheur occupiers are in prison.


REI & Patagonia Team Up for the Wild Olympics

Wild Olympics, WA  Photo:  American Whitewater

Conservation Alliance founding member companies REI and Patagonia have banded together to call attention to the effort to protect wilderness and wild rivers on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The two companies are working with The Conservation Alliance to highlight their shared commitment to protecting wild places. In 1989, the brands teamed up with The North Face and Kelty to launch The Conservation Alliance as a vehicle for outdoor industry companies to work collectively to protect wild places for their recreation and habitat values. Both companies have supported the Wild Olympics campaign on their own, and are now doing so together.

The effort went live last week at an event at the REI flagship retail store in Seattle. Patagonia has a “shop-in-shop” in that store, which now has Wild Olympics imagery and messages integrated throughout the space. Customers can learn more about the campaign and sign post cards in support of the proposed protections. A highlight of the space is a map artfully painted onto the floor that shows the rivers and mountain ranges of the Olympic Peninsula.

The Wild Olympics Campaign seeks to protect 126,000 acres of Wilderness and 19 rivers adjacent to Olympic National Park. Senator Patty Murray and Congressman Derek Kilmer have introduced legislation into both the House and Senate to secure the protections. The measure is broadly supported on the peninsula, and throughout Washington State. Check out the online story map that highlights some of the places proposed for protection. And REI wrote a beautiful piece on their blog about the effort.

Big thanks to REI and Patagonia for calling attention to this important campaign!

Land & Water Conservation Fund Reauthorized for Three Years!

Rocky Fork Track Acquired with LWCF Funds Photo: David Ramsey

Congress passed an omnibus spending bill that includes a provision to reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) for three years. For the past 50 years, the LWCF has provided a reliable source of funding to purchase lands important for outdoor recreation and habitat conservation. The spending bill also guarantees $450 million in funding for LWCF in 2016, a significant increase over the past several years’ appropriations.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the LWCF into law in 1964, creating a fund that would take royalties from oil and gas drilling and put those dollars into land acquisition for recreation and conservation. The fund cost taxpayers nothing. The fund expired in October when Congress failed to reauthorize it despite broad and deep bipartisan support. Though LWCF advocates had hoped for permanent reauthorization, the three-year renewal is an important lifeline for the conservation program.

“LWCF is a critical tool to protect our open spaces in Washington and around the country: The increase in real funding and a three year reauthorization will allow us to do important work in our state. I will continue to push for permanent reauthorization,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.

Congress has the authority to appropriate up to $900 million annually for the LWCF. Many Conservation Alliance grantees have used our grants to cover the staff time necessary to secure funding from the LWCF. Between 2007-2013, we made grants totaling $400,000 to 12 different organizations that leveraged those funds to win $99 million in grants from the LWCF, multiplying our investment nearly 250 times.

The outdoor industry has fought for years to fully fund the LWCF, and more recently to ensure its reauthorization. Our colleagues at Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Alliance worked hard on the reauthorization effort this year. We celebrate today with them, and with our colleagues in the conservation community who use the LWCF to save important wild places. And now we have three more years to work for the permanent reauthorization of the LWCF with guaranteed full funding at $900 million annually. Stay tuned!

Remembering Doug Tompkins

Kris and Doug Tompkins

Learning that Doug Tompkins died tragically on Tuesday after his kayak capsized in the frigid waters of a lake in Chile took the wind out of me. I was not close to Doug. We met several times when I worked at Patagonia, Inc. Doug was a regular visitor to Patagonia’s Ventura campus along with his wife, Kris, who enjoyed a storied run as the company’s CEO. Doug’s passing is a blow because we have lost a pioneer whose values helped define what it meant to be a responsible leader in business.

Like his pal Yvon Chouinard, Doug took the skills and attributes he developed in the mountains and applied them to business. And like Yvon, Doug was not satisfied to merely do well in business. He wanted to make a much bigger mark on the world by protecting what’s left of our special wild places. Though he found most of his business success at Esprit, Doug’s influence is found on two of the outdoor industry’s most important brands, and incidentally, two of The Conservation Alliance’s founding members: The North Face and Patagonia. Doug founded The North Face as a Bay Area retail operation, setting in motion an iconic brand that has helped bring outdoor values to core athletes and the masses alike. Through his friendship with Yvon and Malinda Chouinard, and marriage to Kris, Doug had a meaningful though less direct impact on Patagonia. He was part of the legendary road trip to Patagonia (the region) that inspired the name for the clothing brand, and he surely played a role in Yvon’s thinking about the environment.

By the time I arrived to work at Patagonia, Doug was a phantom presence, having moved with Kris to Chile with the ambitious goal of protecting as much of the South American landscape as possible. He and Yvon had different approaches to addressing the environmental crisis. Yvon uses Patagonia as an example, and a funding mechanism to support grassroots activists working to save wild places worldwide. Doug and Kris use their fortune to purchase land directly, establishing parks throughout Chile and Argentina. I like to think that the two old friends had a running competition to determine who could do more good in the world. If so, Yvon will surely miss Doug’s constant pressure to do more.

Tompkins Climbing in Patagonia

I recently gave a talk at an Access Fund conference about climbers who went on to become great conservationists. The lineage is impressive, starting with John Muir who founded the Sierra Club, and who passed the torch to David Brower who turned the Club into a political force. Both spent enormous amounts of time climbing peaks and wandering in the North American Wilderness before turning their skills and passion to activism. Doug and Yvon have earned solid positions in that pedigree by leveraging their business success to save our wild places. (More recent additions to that rare company include Peter Metcalf and Conrad Anker). The point of my talk was to encourage the climbers in the room to take their climbing skills — preparation, boldness, good judgement, persistence — and use them for conservation. Doug sure did. With his passing, we lose a great leader, but we gain a permanent example of how to make a difference in the world. And I’m confident Kris will capably carry the torch of the work she and Doug did together for so long.

Our thoughts go out to Doug’s family and friends. He will be missed, but his positive impact on the outdoor industry and our wild landscapes is secure.

Shell Abandons Arctic Oil Drilling

“Kayaktavists” protest Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Photo: Charles Conatzer & the sHellNo! Action Council

After seven years of planning and preparation, and billions of dollars spent, Shell Oil Company announced this week that it will abandon its oil drilling effort in the Arctic Ocean “for the foreseeable future.” Conservation organizations, including Conservation Alliance grantee Alaska Wilderness League, fought Shell’s drilling plan from the start, but it appeared the company had cleared the final hurdle when it launched exploratory drilling in the Chuchki Sea this Summer.

Shell explained that it found little oil in its “Burger J” exploratory well. “Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska,” the company said.

The Conservation Alliance funded Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) in 2013 and 2014 to support the group’s Protect the Arctic Ocean Campaign, aimed at halting Shell’s drilling plans. Here is a statement from AWL’s Executive Director Cindy Shogan in response to the Shell announcement.

With Shell leaving the Arctic Ocean, we ask that Congress and the Obama Administration take this opportunity to once and for all prohibit future drilling in the Arctic Ocean, and protect the Coastal Plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with a Wilderness designation.

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