Action Alert! Now is the Time to Invest in Public Lands

For many of us, the COVID-19 public land closures have reminded us how much we value access to our wild places. The current crisis has shone a light on the need to provide more close-to-home recreational opportunities, better maintain backcountry trails and facilities, and ensure equitable access to the outdoors. Now more than ever investing in public lands is both an urgent need and a valuable opportunity. 
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
May 20, 2020

It’s a cliche (and a Joni Mitchell song) that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. For many of us, the COVID-19 public land closures have reminded us how much we value access to our wild places. We’ve gained a new appreciation for neighborhood parks and trails, and have also realized how access to green space near home is a privilege many people don’t have. The coronavirus crisis has vividly demonstrated the importance of the outdoors to our mental, physical, and spiritual health. 

As we continue to weather and eventually recover from this crisis, investing in public lands is both an urgent need and a valuable opportunity. More people than ever before are turning to the outdoors for comfort, solace, exercise, and community. Land managers are balancing increased demand with the immediate need to protect public health, with limited staffing and resources that are already stretched thin. Public lands have been significantly underfunded for years. The current crisis has shone a light on the need to provide more close-to-home recreational opportunities, better maintain backcountry trails and facilities, and ensure equitable access to the outdoors. 

Investing in our public lands is also an opportunity to put people to work and stimulate the economy. As policymakers consider ways to help the economy recover, funding recreational infrastructure like trail maintenance and park facilities is a great way to create jobs and address increased demand for outdoor opportunities. These investments can also help rural gateway communities and outdoor recreation businesses like guiding companies, which have been particularly hard-hit by this crisis. 

The Mountaineers and our partners at the Outdoor Alliance, American Whitewater, and others, are urging Congress to invest in public lands to help our economy recover and create greater and more equitable access to the outdoors. As a member of the Outdoor Alliance, we sent a letter to Congress asking them to:

    • Pass the Great American Outdoors Act to provide full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and to begin to address the maintenance backlog on National Parks, National Forests, BLM, and other public lands. Thousands of individuals in our community have taken action to protect LWCF over the past few years. Now it’s time to get this over the finish line and guarantee dedicated, full funding for LWCF. 
    • Invest in coordinated conservation corps efforts to rebuild outdoor infrastructure. A program could be modeled as a modern version of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that would build out green and recreation infrastructure where it’s needed most. 
    • Pass the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act and the Simplifying Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act to improve close-to-home recreation and assist outfitters and guides. These bills will help reduce obstacles to getting people outside and improve the recreational permitting process. The Mountaineers has  worked hard on these issues for many years so more folks can get outside on public lands in an organized group setting.
    • Increase funding for local, state, and federal public land managers. This funding will help address the demand for outdoor recreation and mitigate the effect of future budget cuts.
    • Align stimulus priorities with climate objectives. We’re concerned that other industries might use this crisis to shortcut public participation and environmental review, and urge Congress to protect the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and align government investment with climate and environmental goals. 

We’re also tracking legislation introduced by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, informed by Outdoor Alliance and American Whitewater, that would provide significant investment in wildfire prevention and relief to recreation outfitters and guides (potentially even nonprofit organizations like The Mountaineers). 

How can you help? Send a quick note to your elected officials asking them to make public lands part of economic recovery and let them know how much the outdoors means to you. 

TAKE ACTION

Tiare Vincent hiking near Koma Kulshan (Mt. Baker). Photo courtesy of Tiare Vincent.


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