Conservation 101: What We Advocate For and How We Choose Our Issues

In this final installment of our Conservation 101 blog series, we explore what conservation and recreation issues The Mountaineers advocates for and our decision-making framework that helps us decide.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
January 17, 2023
Conservation 101: What We Advocate For and How We Choose Our Issues
Snow Lake from Chair Peak. Photo by Monty VanderBilt.

Advocacy has been an enduring theme throughout The Mountaineers history. In the face of intensifying impacts of climate change and increasing recreational use of public lands, it’s as important as ever that the outdoor community advocate to protect public lands and the outdoor experiences they provide.

With so many challenges and opportunities for public lands and outdoor recreation in Washington State and nationally, there are countless issues The Mountaineers could advocate for. Choosing and prioritizing our advocacy issues is key to our community’s success as outdoor advocates. Read on to learn more about what conservation and recreation policies we advocate for and how we decide.

Our Advocacy

The case for conservation is stronger when outdoor recreation is represented, and The Mountaineers is uniquely positioned to have an outsized advocacy impact. The recreational experiences we provide and our connection to the Northwest’s lands and waters allow us to tell authentic stories that highlight the need to conserve them.

Our conservation team advocates at the intersection of conservation and recreation by educating, organizing, and lobbying to influence public policy and land management. We advocate to decision-makers on behalf of our community of more than 15,000 outdoor enthusiasts with the goal of protecting 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.

The Mountaineers is a driving force for successful outdoor advocacy in Washington. We work to:

  • Shape legislation that protects public lands and the outdoor experiences they provide
  • Engage in land planning processes and comment opportunities
  • Advocate for state and federal public lands funding
  • Empower outdoor enthusiasts to take action on current issues

The Mountaineers is well respected as an authentic, pragmatic voice for public lands and outdoor experiences. As a 501c3 non-profit organization, our advocacy is non-partisan. We do not support a particular party or individual, or engage in political activity. Conservation and recreation issues have proven to be popular with elected officials across the political spectrum.

We also work in partnership with like-minded organizations by leading and engaging in coalitions and networks like Outdoor Alliance Washington. We’ve seen first-hand that collective advocacy adds value to our efforts and leads to a greater impact.

What We Advocate For

We advocate for conservation and recreation policies to protect public lands and the outdoor experience, in accordance with our mission to “enrich the community by helping people explore, conserve, learn about, and enjoy the lands and waters of the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”

The Mountaineers advocacy agenda is divided into four priority areas: land conservation, public lands funding, climate action, and sustainable outdoor access. Advancing these issues is critical to adventuring with purpose at The Mountaineers.

Land Conservation

From the formation of Olympic National Park in 1938 to the protection of the Methow Valley from mining in 2019, we have been involved in nearly every major conservation campaign in Washington State’s history.

Mountaineers rely on conserved public lands and waters for our outdoor adventures and the many benefits they provide. We advocate for administrative and legislative protections for our landscapes while maintaining and improving sustainable recreation access. These initiatives may take the form of wilderness designation campaigns like Wild Olympics, or focus on protecting nationally significant landscapes and other natural areas facing the threat of resource extraction.

Public Lands Funding

In the face of growing climate change impacts and increasing recreational use, land managers like the U.S. Forest Service need robust funding to carry out their missions, conserve nature, and manage recreation sustainably. We advocate for increased land manager funding for operations, deferred maintenance, and capital projects through the state and federal appropriations processes. Recently, The Mountaineers played a role in public lands funding wins like the passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020 and securing dedicated, annual funding for managers of Washington State public lands in 2022.

Climate Action

The climate crisis is an existential threat to the future of our organization and the planet, and recreationists are increasingly experiencing the impacts of a changing climate. We advocate for climate investments and for state and federal policies that make public lands and waters a part of climate solutions. Last year, years of advocacy from the recreation community culminated in the passage of bold climate investments in the Inflation Reduction Act.

Sustainable Outdoor Access

When we connect people to the outdoors, we help foster a love of place that turns recreationists into strong advocates for public lands and the outdoor experience. Our programs and activities depend on sustainable and equitable access to public lands throughout the Northwest and beyond. We work directly with land managers to ensure a sustainable future for outdoor recreation in Washington and advocate for initiatives like the Simplifying Outdoor Access to Recreation (SOAR) Act, which would improve our ability to take people outside on public lands.

By advocating for sustainable access to outdoor recreation, we can help ensure that future generations are able to experience the transformative power of the outdoors while also respecting natural and cultural resources.

How We Choose Our Issues

Due to limited staff capacity, we’re strategic about what advocacy issues we take on. Because almost 60% of Mountaineers courses, trips, and activities take place on federal lands, the majority of our advocacy focuses on issues and initiatives impacting National Forests, National Parks, and other federally-managed public lands. We focus on building relationships with members of Washington’s congressional delegation, their staff, and partners at national conservation and recreation organizations.

From there, we engage strategically on issues affecting state public lands in Washington. Our programs and activities frequently occur on state parks and lands managed by the Department of Natural Resources or the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Given our close proximity to the State Capitol in Olympia, it can be easier to access state legislators and make a more immediate impact for state public lands and the outdoor opportunities they provide.

While we occasionally engage on county and municipal issues where multiple Mountaineers programs and priorities intersect, we don’t have the capacity to track hyper-local conservation issues occurring across Washington’s 39 counties and numerous local municipalities. We appreciate our community’s interest in local issues and recognize the tremendous work you do to preserve and protect local lands and waters: your efforts to engage and advocate locally make a difference.

Decision-Making Framework

The Mountaineers is often asked to take a position or participate in advocacy for issues that we haven’t typically been involved in. In order to fairly weigh these issues, The Mountaineers developed a decision-making framework to decide if a new issue is in our organization’s scope.

This framework was recently updated through collaboration with our Conservation & Advocacy Committee. The C&A Committee is a volunteer body of The Mountaineers Board of Directors that provides expertise and guidance to advance the organization’s conservation and advocacy work and advises staff on conservation policy issues of potential importance to our members and stakeholders.

VIEW A DIAGRAM OF OUR DECISION-MAKING FRAMEWORK

When a new advocacy issue comes to The Mountaineers from a member, volunteer, partner organization, land manager, or tribe, our conservation staff research and analyze the issue based on the following criteria.

  • Is it relevant to The Mountaineers mission, strategic plan, and conservation priorities?
  • Does it build or strengthen partnership with others who can help us advance our mission?
  • Does it affect Pacific Northwest public lands and waters where Mountaineers activities generally occur, or other threatened western U.S. landscapes where the organization has an interest?
  • Can the issue be meaningfully addressed with the capacity, resources, and expertise of The Mountaineers?

If the answer is “no,” then no further action is taken on the issue. If the answer is “yes,” Mountaineers conservation staff decide how the organization will engage on this issue and educate our membership. If the issue or advocacy actions are controversial with our membership, involve legal action, pose a reputational risk to the organization, or are oppositional to an important partner organization or tribe, then the Conservation & Advocacy Committee reviews the issue and provides a recommendation to staff.

For particularly sensitive issues, such as those involving legal action and/or reputational risk to the organization, the committee may pass a motion to refer the decision to the Executive Committee or Board of Directors.

Get Ready to Advocate

Becoming a more effective advocate starts with staying abreast of policy developments on important issues affecting Pacific Northwest public lands and the outdoor experience. Get started by signing up for our monthly conservation e-newsletter to receive relevant conservation updates and opportunities to engage and advocate.

We’re striving to find new ways for our members to develop advocacy skills and advocate through The Mountaineers. In the meantime, you can learn more about conservation and advocacy through our other Conservation 101 series posts advocacy, public lands, The Mountaineers conservation history, our conservation education offerings, and stewardship.