OIA in D.C.: Notes From the Hill—Shouldn’t every day be National Public Lands Day?
With the summer quickly fading into our memory and kids back at school, America’s public lands and waters across the country will begin to experience a reprieve from their busiest season. The fact that our close-to-home, state and national parks, rivers, lakes, refuges and reservoirs continue seeing record visitation — not just June through August but year-round — is a testament to how much we love our public lands. But recently, it has also laid bare the vulnerability and fragility of those special places. More and more, we wonder if we’re loving our public lands to death. But that’s not really the right question. What we should be asking is what more can we do to show our love?
National Public Lands Day, which will happen on September 28, is one upcoming opportunity for us to participate in meaningful, hands-on labors of love. For nearly three decades, the annual service day has drawn individuals and community groups to their local public lands, where they can rebuild trails, repair bridges or structures, plant trees or restore wildlife habitats. We encourage our member companies to sponsor or join a service project near you.
Is there anything as gratifying and impactful as dedicating a day and a little elbow grease to your favorite outdoor places? Well, yes, in fact, there is. And while one day of service to our public lands and waters is good, we can do more. We can use our advocacy voice to protect and maintain these national treasures. While it might not feel as intimate or tangible, advocating for policies that not only conserve land but that adequately fund the programs that protect, maintain and ensure equitable access to those places is crucial. As participation grows, so too must our advocacy. This is why OIA continues to champion public land and water policies and why we need our members to convey the importance of these policies to their elected officials.
In 2019, we are prioritizing the following legislation and encourage you to do the same.
For Maintenance: Our national parks face a $12 billion backlog of unmaintained trails, crumbling roads outdated visitor centers and other infrastructure needs. A third of the backlog is comprised of critical projects that, if not addressed, could lead to permanent damage. The Restore our Parks and Public Lands Act already has wide bipartisan support, with more than 300 co-sponsors in the House and 40 in the Senate. Take action now to let your elected officials know the maintenance backlog not only affects the parks themselves but also the individuals who visit and the people and businesses in nearby communities whose recreation economies depend on well-maintained facilities.
For Conservation: We achieved a big victory in March of this year when Congress approved permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now we need Congress to guarantee the $900 million in annual funding so that it can’t get siphoned to other programs. Fully funding LWCF is an investment in our national and local recreation economies. It supports healthy communities and healthy economies built on or around outdoor recreation infrastructure.
In addition to LWCF, we are supporting the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Economy (CORE) Act, which combines four previously introduced bills into one. Introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (CO-D) and Congressman Joe Neguse (CO-D 2nd), CORE aims to protect more than 400,000 acres of Colorado and the Western United States’ most precious and unique public lands, including an area along the Continental Divide where the famed 10th Mountain Division trained for WWII, 61,000 acres of the majestic San Juan Mountains, the Thompson Divide and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. Whether you’re based in Colorado or not, it’s important to let your representatives know why Western public lands are important to your business, your employees and your customers. Use our advocacy center to send your elected officials a letter urging their support.
For Access: The SOAR Act and Recreation Not Red Tape will direct agencies to eliminate duplicative processes, reduce costs, shorten processing times and simplify environmental review in the process of issuing recreation permits. The bills will also increase the flexibility for outfitters and guides by allowing land management agencies to issue a single, joint permit to alleviate the administrative burden and reduce permit processing time. Reducing red-tape around the permitting process to access our public lands will improve the outdoor experience for individuals and allow outdoor recreation providers to focus more on providing exceptional outdoor experiences.
Thursday, September 19, the House Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on the SOAR Act. Outdoor Industry Association has submitted a joint written testimony with the Coalition for Outdoor Access and Conservation Alliance. In addition, Matt Wade from American Mountain Guides Association — one of our partner organizations in the Coalition for Outdoor Access — will testify. Wade and other members of the climbing community’s user groups will be in town tomorrow lobbying on the SOAR Act. “With the SOAR Act, Congress has a wonderful opportunity to come together around a set of common interests and enact change that will truly enhance the recreational benefits of public lands and empower the American people to enjoy them,” says Wade.” Follow our social media channels on Thursday to help us and them amplify the message. And in the meantime, use the action alert on our Advocacy Center to send a letter directly to your Congressperson, especially if they sit on the House Natural Resources Committee.
I hope you’ll join us in our celebration of America’s Best Idea during the official National Public Lands Day on September 28 but also on the other 364 days of the year. Volunteer on a local restoration project next week, contribute to the OIA’s public lands advocacy programs fundraiser, and call or write to your elected officials to make sure they understand why supporting conservation, maintenance and access are so crucial to protecting our $887 billion outdoor recreation economy.