Conservation 101: What is Advocacy, and Why is it Important

Mountaineers are fierce defenders of our wild places. Dive deeper into what this entails, how to build your skills as an advocate, and why successful advocacy makes a difference for the outdoor places we love.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
February 19, 2022

Conservation advocacy has been an enduring priority throughout The Mountaineers history. Early members recognized the importance of protecting wild places for the outdoor experience, and as a result we have been involved in nearly every major conservation campaign in our state's history. Advocacy has been, and remains, at the heart of key environmental protections. 

What is advocacy?

The term “advocacy” encompasses a broad range of activities - including education, organizing, and lobbying - used to influence public policy. Our conservation and advocacy team utilizes many of these tools to bring conservation and outdoor recreation issues to the attention of decision-makers. We work in partnership with like-minded organizations and networks like Outdoor Alliance Washington to influence policy and management of public lands through issue advocacy, relationship building, land management planning, and advocating for funding and various initiatives that move conservation and recreation forward.

You don’t have to work in conservation to be an advocate for the outdoors. Whether you’re a policy expert or are coming off your first-ever stewardship activity with a keen interest in learning more about advocacy, it’s important to understand that our individual and collective voices are powerful tools for change. 

With so many important issues and ways to get involved, it can be hard to know where to start.

Your participation in our advocacy efforts matters - we could not build influence and help protect the outdoor experience without you.

Passing legislation, especially at the federal level, can take years. Lawmakers and land management agency leaders regularly hear from constituents on many different policy issues. Frequent and effective advocacy that highlights personal stories by constituents is critical to developing relationships, keeping conservation a top priority, and being ready to capitalize on opportunities to achieve big wins for the outdoors.

Why do The Mountaineers advocate?

Our goal is to protect the natural landscapes that make our adventures possible. Without conserved lands and waters, climate-resilient landscapes, and recreational access to these places, our organization and the opportunities we provide would cease to exist. That's why we  advocate for the trails where we wander, the mountains we climb, and the waters we paddle.

By advocating to elected officials and land managers, our community has the power to shape the future of our public lands. By focusing on issues affecting public land conservation and land management, we help ensure recreational access to these special places for our members - and the greater outdoor community - for generations to come. The case for conservation is stronger when outdoor recreation is represented, and The Mountaineers is a driving force in outdoor advocacy in Washington.

What makes The Mountaineers effective advocates?

The Mountaineers is uniquely positioned to have an outsized advocacy impact throughout the region and on a national scale. This is in large part thanks to our community - we’re a group of passionate and engaged outdoor recreationists with genuine love for Washington’s public lands. Our experiences and connection to the Northwest’s lands and waters allow us to tell authentic stories that highlight the need to conserve them.

When we ask our community to speak up about a current policy issue, they follow through and take action in high numbers. For example, our community sent over 5,000 messages to Congress in support of the 2019 public lands package. Policymakers took notice, and as a result the bill included local priorities like prohibiting mining in the Methow Headwaters and establishing a Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area. By getting involved, you help us draw on these advocacy superpowers to protect and conserve Washington’s public lands.

Ways to advocate for the outdoors

There are a number of different ways you can flex your advocacy muscles on behalf of the great outdoors. Let’s dig deeper into a few of them.

Contact your elected officials

We often share time-sensitive opportunities to advocate for the outdoors by sending out an “action alert.” If you receive a notification of an action alert through your email or on our social media, it’s because legislators are deciding on a conservation issue and it’s important that they hear from recreationists. We try to make these opportunities quick and easy for you to engage with. Completing an action alert and sending a message to your elected officials is a good way to let them know where you stand on a particular issue, and also share why recreation and conservation are important to you.

We also encourage direct calls into lawmaker offices or using the web contact forms available on their websites. But before you make that call or write that letter, find out what resonates with the specific lawmaker. For instance, do they generally support environmental issues, or are they an avid hiker? And don’t forget to personalize your message - it goes a long way toward making your email stand out to the person reading it. Don’t be discouraged if your contact didn’t move them on an issue right now. Just reaching out can help build towards something in the future; the more contacts an office receives, the more likely that lawmaker will be moved to future involvement and action on an issue.

Attend a public meeting or town hall event

One of the easiest ways to meet your lawmakers face-to-face is by attending a public meeting or town hall event. Sign up for their e-newsletters and stay connected through social media to stay updated on when these events are happening. Town halls and other public meetings are increasingly held virtually, allowing more constituents the opportunity to join and participate. Come to the meeting prepared with questions and a personal story that demonstrate your interest and personal stake in an issue to make the most of these opportunities. Approach these events as an opportunity to build relationships and engage in ongoing conversation with your elected officials.

Public meetings held in conjunction with land management agency planning processes are also a great chance to speak up for public lands and the outdoor experience.


Write a letter to the editor

Writing and submitting a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, outdoors magazine, or other publication is a proven method for influencing elected officials. By publishing your opinion on an issue that matters, you can move the dialogue forward and flag the issue for local lawmakers. Publishers are looking for opinions on current issues, often in response to pieces they recently published. 

When choosing where to send your letter, cast a wide net, but keep in mind that outlets do place value on the opportunity to elevate local perspectives. Keep your letter short, simple, and punchy to increase the likelihood of getting it published. Personalizing the issue and including a call-to-action will help your letter stand out to readers and resonate with decision-makers. 

Timely letter to the editor submissions are also more likely to be published. A good way to start is by finding some recently published articles related to conservation or recreation that peak your interest. What perspective can you add to the discussion? What action would you like others to join you in?

Cantwell April 2016_Photo_Katherine Hollis.jpgMountaineers staff and partners meet with Sen. Maria Cantwell in Washington, DC. Photo by Katherine Hollis.


Meet with your elected officials

One of the best ways to communicate with your elected officials is in person. Almost all elected leaders have official websites with information on how to contact them, so once you figure out who you’d like to meet with (and what issue you plan to discuss), reach out to their staff via their website or by calling the office to set up a meeting. 

Many of the best practices for other advocacy methods mentioned above apply to in-person meetings as well. You’ll want to come prepared, be respectful, and stay focused on your issue. Be sure to say thank you and follow up so that the lawmaker and their staff are thinking of your visit - and your issue - after you’re gone. This will help build that long-term relationship with the lawmaker and their staff.

Attending a lobby or legislative day with a larger group or organization is also a great way to leverage your advocacy for a greater cumulative impact for an issue, or suite of issues.

Get ready to advocate

Effective advocacy starts with knowing your issues and staying abreast of policy developments that affect Pacific Northwest public lands and The Mountaineers experience. Our Mountaineers conservation and advocacy program webpages, including our legislative trail map, are a good place to start. Signing up for our Conservation Currents e-newsletter to receive relevant conservation content, action alerts, and engagement opportunities is a must, but don’t stop there. 

Our advocacy partners like Washington Trails Association, Mountains to Sound Greenway, Washington Wild, and the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition - just to name a few - are on the front lines of this work with us, and also send great conservation updates and regularly include action opportunities.

In addition to keeping up on key issues, it’s important to know the basics of conservation policy and public lands management work in the U.S. Want to boost your Mountaineers online profile while expanding and testing your public lands knowledge? Check out our Protecting Public Lands 101 e-course. It can help get you ready for advocacy with a primer on conservation policy and land management agencies and net you a sweet new badge in the process.

We’re always working to provide more opportunities for you to engage in conservation and advocacy through The Mountaineers. Feel free to contact us at conservation@mountaineers.org with any questions or stories about how you’ve advocated for the outdoors.


Look out for future stories in our “Conservation 101” blog series, here to help you unpack the conservation and advocacy world.

Lead Image of Outdoor Advocates visiting the Nooksack river (WA) with Rep. Suzan Delbene. Photo by Thomas O'Keefe.


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Anita Wilkins
Anita Wilkins says:
Feb 24, 2022 10:54 AM

Thanks for this blog post! I have often found myself eager to advocate but lacking clarity about issues, processes, and how best to engage. This provides a helpful framework for resources and action.