Conservation Currents | Year One of Outdoor Alliance Washington

In this feature from Mountaineer magazine, learn about the ways our community of outdoor recreationists and policy experts works together to advocate for shared conservation, recreation, and climate priorities in Washington state.
Conor Marshall Conor Marshall
Advocacy & Engagement Manager
February 14, 2023
Conservation Currents |  Year One of Outdoor Alliance Washington
A snowshoer on Low Mountain, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Photo by Luke Helgeson.

Whether you prefer backcountry skiing the North Cascades, climbing in Tieton, or day hiking along the Snoqualmie River, as Mountaineers you’ve likely experienced how policy and management decisions impact our public lands. Many of us have seen hazardous roads, decrepit facilities, and closed trailheads as funding falls shy year after year. But this frustration can – and has – produced change. The experiences of recreationists like you translate into compelling advocacy for conservation and recreation.

Washington is one of the most important states in the country for outdoor advocacy. Our congressional delegation is a powerful force for conservation and recreation initiatives, and the state legislature continues to set the curve on climate action. A big reason for the strong leadership on these issues is the fact that Washington’s outdoor community is filled with people like you, who work, advocate, volunteer, and donate on behalf of our spectacular natural places. Your connection to the PNW’s lands and waters allows us to tell authentic stories that compel elected officials to protect these places.

More powerful together

The Mountaineers works in partnership with like-minded organizations and coalitions in Washington to harness the collective power of Washington’s recreationists. By leveraging partnerships and coordinating a more strategic approach to our advocacy, we can more effectively influence public lands policy and management decisions, secure critical funding, and move key conservation and recreation initiatives forward.

Six years ago, The Mountaineers joined Outdoor Alliance (OA), a national coalition of human-powered outdoor recreation organizations working to conserve America’s public lands. We’ve deepened our involvement with OA over the last several years because The Mountaineers and Washington’s human-powered recreation community are well positioned to impact conservation on a national scale.

Last fall we announced The Mountaineers leadership of Outdoor Alliance Washington (OA Washington), a state-based network of groups representing the voices of climbers, paddlers, hikers, mountain bikers, and backcountry skiers in the Evergreen State modeled after the national OA. While many of these groups have worked together for years, OA Washington came together more formally in the fall of 2021 thanks to philanthropic support.

OA Washington brings together policy experts from the regional chapters of OA member organizations, including Access Fund, American Whitewater, Surfrider Foundation, as well as non-member organizations like Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, and Washington Trails Association. Together, these organizations maintain thousands of miles of trails, contribute millions of dollars in recreation user fees, and teach outdoor skills to thousands of Washingtonians.

By working together to forge strong relationships with local lawmakers and land managers, we can more effectively advocate for shared conservation, recreation, and climate priorities in our state. Amplifying the voices of more than 75,000 recreationists across the state will help us achieve a more sustainable future for Washington’s outdoors.

OA WA Policy Roundtable With Rep. Jayapal - Group Shot_Photo by Jenna Behringer.JPGOA Washington partners with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) at the August policy roundtable event at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center. Photo by Jenna Behringer.

Year one: introducing Outdoor Alliance Washington

To chart our initial course, OA Washington partners developed three shared policy priorities: investing in the outdoors by advocating for increased land manager funding, protecting our special outdoor places through landscape protection campaigns, and ensuring a sustainable future for outdoor recreation by helping shape recreation planning and management in Washington.

In order to best position our network to secure wins for public lands and the outdoor experience, we focused on introducing OA Washington and building strong relationships with lawmakers, land managers, and community partners. We held virtual meetings with 75 percent of the congressional delegation, as well as with staff at the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Region 6 (Oregon and Washington) of the U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service.

These meetings afforded elected officials and land managers the opportunity to connect with the state’s human-powered recreation community in a streamlined way and hear about shared priorities like climate funding, stronger appropriations for land management agencies, and continued authorization and better implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act.

While many of these meetings occurred over Zoom, we know how valuable connecting in-person on public lands and in our communities can be. “I think we have great conversations about the work we need to do when we’re out on public lands,” said Rep. Suzan DelBene (WA-01) at our Summer Celebration event in August.

To that end, OA Washington held four in-person meetings and events in its first year:

  • September 2021: Field tour with Representative Derek Kilmer (WA-06) and Forest Service staff in the Olympic National Forest to celebrate implementation of the Great American Outdoors Act.
  • April 2022: Visit to Washington Trails Association’s gear library in Puyallup to discuss the importance of equitable access to the outdoors and federal funding for trails with Representative Marilyn Strickland (WA-10).
  • August 2022: Policy meeting with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), representatives of the outdoor industry, and local advocates for equitable outdoor access and community development.
  • August 2022: Summer Celebration event with Representatives Kim Schrier (WA-08), Adam Smith (WA-09), Suzan DelBene (WA-01), recreationists, and land managers held at The Mountaineers Seattle Program Center.

Through our events and meetings, we saw recreation concerns resonating with decision-makers and their staff because we had Washington's outdoor community behind us. In turn, we amplified the work of our partners: “OA Washington has allowed us to amplify our statewide work and increased our ability to engage in both federal and state recreation policy,” said Yvonne Kraus, Executive Director of Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.

OA Washington also took advantage of key opportunities to engage our supporters in advocacy, something we’re looking to do more of moving forward. Grassroots support from recreationists helped secure landmark climate investments in Congress and the first-ever dedicated annual funding for maintenance and operations on state public lands in Washington.

Year two: activating our community

In our second year, OA Washington is poised to pursue some of our more ambitious policy goals, continue to grow the recreation community as advocates for conservation, and build strong relationships with local partners, Native tribes, elected leaders, and land managers. The growing impact of the climate crisis, chronic underfunding of land management agencies, and skyrocketing visitation to parks and forests leave us at a critical juncture to protect public lands and waters. Speaking up for the places we love is more important than ever.

Regardless of your branch, activities, or interests, we believe that all Mountaineers have a role to play in this important work. In 2023 we’ll look to create new ways for Mountaineers and other human-powered recreationists to engage in policy and advocacy work through Outdoor Alliance Washington. These might include town hall meetings with lawmakers, lobby days, and more opportunities to weigh in and share your thoughts on policy and land management planning.

On the policy front, we’re closely monitoring opportunities to finally pass the Wild Olympics Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the Securing Outdoor Access for Recreation (SOAR) Act at the end of the current session of Congress. Stay abreast of opportunities to engage and support Outdoor Alliance Washington by signing up for The Mountaineers conservation newsletter. You can also sign up to receive Washington State-related updates from Outdoor Alliance.

This article originally appeared in our winter 2023 issue of Mountaineer magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, visit our magazine archive

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Jerry Logan
Jerry Logan says:
Feb 22, 2023 07:59 AM

What is status of the Wild Olympics bill? Appears not to be moving since the Senate Energy & Natural Resources Committee did not report favorably on it in May 2022?

Conor Marshall
Conor Marshall says:
Feb 23, 2023 09:47 AM

Thanks for the question, Jerry. Despite our best opportunity yet to secure new wilderness protections for the Olympics, the bill failed to pass at the end of last year. The legislation hasn't been re-introduced yet in the new Congress, but we're following this closely, and will update our community when additional advocacy opportunities arise.