Conservation is a hot topic for the public land-dependent outdoor industry. Even President Barack Obama’s efforts - more than any other U.S. president in history - aren’t enough, given the rapid pace of development in the U.S., said Kristen Brengel, VP of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association.
“We’re not conserving land at the same pace we’re developing,” she said.
However, monument and park designation isn’t the only aspect of protecting what we’ve got. When you step into the ballot booth on election day, there are several environmental challenges to consider:
Alleviating the parks maintenance backlog
With nearly $12 billion in critical maintenance projects already on the NPS to-do list, budget is top of mind for conservation organizations.
“One of the first things the next president could do out of the gate is create an infrastructure bill,” said Brengel, VP of government affairs at the National Parks Conservation Association. She said both candidates have mentioned such bills. Clinton’s campaign website promises to establish an American Parks Trust Fund “to address infrastructure needs, reduce the maintenance backlog in national parks, forests and public lands, and more.” Clinton has also proposed reforming the USFS wildfire budget, which currently fails to meet the Forest Service’s needs during climate-change intensified fire seasons.
Trump promises to improve American infrastructure nation-wide, but his campaign has not yet laid out any parks-specific policies.
Stopping the public lands heist
The only thing worse than experiencing a poorly-maintained park is experiencing no park at all, and that’s one possible outcome of state land reclamation proposed by some western states, including Utah, 60 percent of which is public land.
“It would be an environmental disaster,” said Scott Groney, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “We would hope the next administration would reclaim a lot of conservation lands and do whatever it takes to stop the Utah land grab.”
Both Trump and Clinton have mentioned opposition to state reclamation of federal lands. Donald Trump, Jr., an avid hunter and angler, has spoken about the importance of keeping public lands in public hands. However, at its 2016 annual convention, the Republican National Committee released a resolution calling for the return of federal land to the states.
“We haven’t heard from Trump on this issue, but we have to assume that if this is a Republican Party issue, that’s something he’ll be taking into account,” said Jessica Wahl, the government affairs manager of the OIA, which is bipartisan.
Combatting climate change
More wildfires and uncertain snow seasons hurt the outdoor industry, and one thing the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and OIA are looking for in a candidate is commitment to addressing the challenges of a warming planet.
While Trump has stated that he does not believe in climate change, Clinton addresses it in her plans to dial back American dependence on fossil fuels, invest in clean energy, and reduce carbon pollution.
“Our industry is pretty recession-proof and growing, but [climate change] is one of the hiccups that could cause it not to thrive,” said Wahl.
Ensuring access to existing land
According to her campaign page, Clinton plans to increase the amount of accessible land by 50 percent, in part by opening up protected lands surrounded by private properties.
Trump has not outlined any proposals on the matter, though Wahl expects he would also be in favor of increasing access, given his son’s interest in hunting and fishing.
Creating a warm business environment
Both candidates have voiced strong support for growing businesses. Clinton focuses particularly on small businesses, suggesting a loan program to give startups a leg up in their early years.
Clinton’s campaign page also describes her plan for doubling the outdoor recreation economy in the next 10 years.
“I haven’t seen any specific policies [on promoting small business] from Trump, but he has a lot of interest in domestic manufacturing, which is great and in line with OIA’s balanced trade agenda,” said Wahl.
Trump’s resume contains decades of corporate experience but demonstrates little in the way of support for small businesses. Trump Tower retailers, casino construction contractors, and even the architect behind the Trump National Golf Club clubhouse have all come forward to say that Trump refused to pay up after the completion of agreed-upon services. Such accounts of a conglomerate taking advantage of small firms will likely give many entrepreneurs and shop owners pause.
“This is a crazy time and a negative election season, but the outdoors is something people can really rally around, and our issues – strong economies, healthy people, and a healthy planet – are issues we all care about,” said Wahl.
The OIA endorses a slate of congressional candidates but has not selected a presidential candidate at this time.
“We encourage people to get out and vote, and vote for the outdoors,” said Wahl.