By Mark Menlove, Executive Director
As I boarded a 5:20 a.m. flight in Boise bound for Washington, DC, it struck me, again, the direct connection and interdependence between the backcountry world, where I go to rejuvenate, and the policy world of DC, where I go to advocate. Just the day prior I’d woken up in the middle of Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness where I’d been exploring on skis with Winter Wildlands Ambassadors Kt Miller and Forrest McCarthy and here I was — less than 24 hours later, ski gear traded for a business suit — headed to meet with members of Congress, the body responsible for designating “The Frank” as Wilderness and ensuring that remarkable landscape remains as it is – pristine, physically and mentally demanding and soul-replenishing – for future generations.
The DC visit was at the invitation of our partners at The Conservation Alliance for advocacy training with their board of directors and member company ambassadors followed by a day of Capitol Hill visits with key members of Congress. Hosted at the DC offices of the Pew Environmental Group, the training day included sessions on conservation policy, working effectively in the current political landscape and specific threats/solutions to our public lands born of the Public Lands Heist movement. Indicative of the interest and engagement from the outdoor industry in protecting our public lands, this year was the largest Conservation Alliance gathering ever.
We heard from partners in the conservation world, hunting and angling groups, the Outdoor Industry Association and our own DC-based policy experts from Outdoor Alliance. More than a decade ago, Winter Wildlands Alliance got together with our counterparts from the climbing, paddling, hiking and mountain biking worlds to form Outdoor Alliance. Our investment is paying huge dividends with the collective voice of the human-powered recreation community, led by the savvy Outdoor Alliance staff, emerging as the go-to thought leader in keeping our public lands public and engaging our community to speak up in defense of our shared inheritance of public lands.
In part because of WWA’s focus on winter travel planning efforts across the Sierra, I had the privilege of joining a team of representatives from California-based companies Patagonia, The North Face, Marmot, Camelbak and Toad & Co. in meeting with Congressional offices from California.
We met with offices of newly elected California Senator Kamala Harris, Representatives Paul Cook, Salud Carbajal, Jared Huffman, and Nevada Senator Dean Heller. In each meeting we delivered a message of keeping our public lands public by opposing any efforts to sell off or transfer public lands to states; to protect the integrity of the Antiquities Act; to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund; and to support California-specific bills such as the California Central Coast Heritage Protection Act and the Northwest California Mountains and Rivers legislation.
I can tell you that the combination of world-renowned outdoor businesses with a strong stakeholder group like Winter Wildlands Alliance representing constituents from each of these Congressional Districts who vote and who care about protecting public lands creates a powerful messenger. The message was heard loud and clear.
It was also clear that we – all of us who love public lands – have our work cut out for us in protecting these magical places that belong to all of us from continuing threats. Meanwhile, I take huge comfort and find deep inspiration in the knowledge that we have found our collective voice and that that voice is powerful.