Earlier this month, The Conservation Alliance led more than forty outdoor and craft brew industry leaders, athletes, and human powered users through our Nation’s Capital. Our goal was two part: provide an opportunity for our members to learn about the public lands system and advocate on behalf of the wild places that drive our businesses and our adventures.
We kicked off our annual spring DC trip with a full day of conservation policy training. Experts spoke about the politics of conservation, existing threats to public lands, and opportunities to protect wild places during the current administration. Throughout the day we discussed topics ranging from national monument defense, to re-authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, to the outdoor recreation economy, to Wilderness legislation and agency management planning.
For 29 years our members have continued to empower us to fund grassroots organizations seeking to secure lasting protections for wild places throughout North America. Only after we have funded efforts to protect a place can we advocate on its behalf. On the second day of our DC visit we took our legislative priorities, built from the hard work of our grantees, to Capitol Hill. We split into five regional teams and took to the halls of Congress to make the business case for protecting wild places. In total we brought this message to 28 congressional offices from all sides of the political spectrum.
Each trip to Washington DC concludes with feelings of pride for our community, gratefulness for our members, and empowerment from the impact of our collective voice. This year we left with another important reminder: a good offense is the best defense.
Over the last 15 months, Americans withstood unprecedented attacks on our public lands system. Millions of people took action through phone calls, letters, and comments. The Conservation Alliance took action by awarding $267,000 from our new Public Lands Defense Fund to protect our national monuments and core conservation laws. We will continue to work with our members and grantees to defend our wild places through funding and advocacy. At the same time, we will remain focused on our mission to add new protected areas to the map.
Unfortunately, it’s extremely unlikely that Congress will pass standalone public lands legislation. However, some bills may have a chance to become law by being added to various bill packages, or as attachments to must-pass legislation (like last week’s spending bill). Should a vehicle to move public lands bills through Congress present itself, we are confident our champions in Congress will do everything possible to include bills from our legislative priority list.
While very few public lands bills were moving through Congress during the George W. Bush Administration, wild place advocates – including The Conservation Alliance and dozens of our Grantees – were working day in and day out to build coalitions and queue up important public lands bills across the United States. This incredible work paid off on March 30, 2009 when Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. With the stroke of a pen, two million acres were designated as Wilderness, 1,000 river miles were designated as Wild and Scenic, and another million acres of various public lands protections were enacted. Our annual spring trip to Washington, DC underscored the importance of investing in the future, even when the present seems daunting.