I have to say transitioning from the walls of the Grand Canyon to the walls of the capital is no easy task. In fact my head was spinning a bit as I left a 15 day Grand Canyon trip, made the quick 12 hour drive back to California and hopped on a plane heading to DC. But when I arrived at my hotel which had a direct view to our nation’s capital I knew this was going to be a unique experience.
John Sterling, the Executive Director of the Conservation Alliance asked a couple of us NEXTers to join him on a trip to the capital to lobby on behalf on a large package of public lands bills that were making their way through Congress. The bill, S. 3213 Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2008, is comprised of 153 bills (introduced by both Democrats and Republican Senators) affecting special public lands in over 30 states. We, as representatives from the Outdoor Industry, were there to show our representatives that protected public lands and waterways are essential to the health of the outdoor industry. Together, John Sterling from The Conservation Alliance, Brook Shinsky from The North Face, Megan Waterman from Osprey Packs and I, representing The Forest Group met with a variety of senators and congressman expressing to them the importance of wild places.
We were joining the efforts of Wilderness Week, a gathering of a variety of environmental advocacy groups who convene in D.C. annually to provide not only support for each other’s efforts but a time to come together under a united mission and speak about the importance of wild places. Since our group has representation from California, Colorado and Oregon we focused our attention on talking to representatives of these three states.
Our first day started with an orientation both to the political issues and the act of lobbying. We were greeted by representatives from The Wilderness Society and Campaign for America’s Wilderness. These organizations have quite a bit of representation in Washington and were well versed on the Omnibus Bill, its current state of action, and how best to utilize our efforts. We then had a chance to gather as a group and go over our talking points. Each of us worked on the message we felt both spoke to the issues that were important to us as individual as well as to the companies we represented. We then packed up our bags and headed to the hill.
The first day we meet with staff for Senator Barbara Boxer from California, Senator Jeff Sessions from Alabama, Senator Gordon Smith from Oregon, Representative John Doolittle from California and Representative John Salazar from Colorado. I was surprised by the positive response we received during each of our meetings.
Representative Doolittle was one meeting I was slightly apprehensive going into. I live in Doolittle’s district in California, and to put it nicely we do not see eye to eye on politics. He is currently a lame duck congressman and this will be his last year in office but nonetheless I was not sure how our conversation would go. We met with a young man from his office who was seemingly uninterested when we first started talking about wilderness. However when we explained where we were coming from and the different companies we represented his eyes started to light up. By the end he pulled out his old North Face backpack that he had forever and explained how much he loved his bag. By the end of the conversation he confessed the he never had thought about the economic benefits of wilderness. . . I felt like we left a good impression.
To be honest there was a piece of me that felt that lobbying in DC may be overlooked and unappreciated by our government representatives. However, after our first day on the hill I was surprised at how energized I was and how successful I felt our efforts had been. I encourage anyone who has the chance to visit our capital and share your opinion with your representatives to take advantage of the opportunity.