The Conservation Alliance board and staff gathered at the Toad&Co offices in Santa Barbara last week to hammer out a new, three-year strategic plan, and a 2017 annual operating plan. We intentionally scheduled the retreat for the week after the elections to ensure that we made our plans with a full understanding of the political landscape in which we operate. We dared to assume that one pro-conservation administration would follow another, and our work over the next three years would simply build on our efforts over the past eight. Needless to say, the election results took us by surprise.
We actually don’t know much about where Donald Trump stands on conservation and public lands issues. We do know that there are members of Congress who would like to wreak havoc on our public lands system. These lawmakers have already introduced legislation that would transfer federal lands to the states, the first step toward privatizing those lands. The same members of Congress routinely stop conservation bills from moving forward, and have threatened to gut our bedrock environmental laws. During the past four years, President Obama has regularly used his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments to protect special lands when Congress has failed to act. Emboldened members of Congress are already talking about rescinding those national monument designations, and repealing the Antiquities Act.
Make no mistake. Our public lands system is now at risk.
“Public Lands” is a painfully generic term for places that inspire so much joy and awe; places that test our abilities and teach us lessons about our place in the world. These are the lands – our National Parks, Wilderness areas, Forest Service and BLM lands – that provide the setting for our great adventures or our daily trail runs. We backpack, ski, and mountain bike on our public lands. We paddle their rivers and lakes, and climb their rocks. Sometimes we go there to simply find quiet in an ever-busier world.
I grew up exploring public lands with my family. I learned to ski and climb there. I got engaged in one National Park, and honeymooned in another. During an eight-month job transition, my wife and I spent seven months on – and under the spell of – public lands. Sound familiar? I’m guessing most people who earn a living in the outdoor industry have a similar connection to our public lands. That’s good news, because we are going to need everyone to stand up now and repeatedly over the next four years in defense of these special places.
American voters elected Donald Trump, and gave his party majorities in both chambers of Congress. But I do not believe this election was a referendum on our public lands system. Public lands are one of the few institutions left in our society that transcend political affiliation. They are our common ground.
Our shared commitment to public lands will be tested over the next four years, and The Conservation Alliance will take a strong stand in their defense. Our new strategic plan will direct us to spend more time on our advocacy efforts, engaging our member companies and their employees to demonstrate support for public lands. Our funding program will continue to support efforts to protect our last wild places, seeking creative opportunities to preserve lands and waters in a challenging political climate. But we will make an important adjustment to our funding criteria, creating a new fund to support organizations working to defend the integrity of our public lands system. We look forward to branching out into this new area of funding.
To our members, we say without equivocation that our work together has never been more important. Our alliance of outdoor businesses has helped protect more than 45 million acres of land and 2,900 river miles over the past 27 years. Our steady success speaks to our ability to be nimble as the climate for conservation changes. Your board of directors met last week, and developed a solid plan for the next three years. We look forward to working with you to implement that plan, and to ensure that the outdoor industry does all we can to preserve our most special wild places.