In January 2009, SNEWS® named the industry's first class of outdoor industry Power Players (click here to read).
"Insight and inspiration provide an edge that everybody can use in these economic times," SNEWS reported when it announced the Power Players. "Both can be found by listening to people who have become business leaders. And that is the driving force behind the launch of the SNEWS Power Players -- an honor that will acknowledge outdoor industry leaders for varied accomplishments in different industry sectors." To acknowledge the honor of being chosen as the first class of Power Players, the group wanted to collectively give back to the outdoor industry. Recently, the 2009 SNEWS Power Players' Lounge opened in SNEWS. Each week, through the end of October 2009, a new column will be posted to the Power Players' Lounge. It's intended to be a place where our industry friends can gather to read and hopefully discuss ideas for improving business -- especially important during these challenging economic times. We encourage you to interact with others while hanging out in the Power Players' Lounge and it's our hope their columns will inspire imagination and debate. Use the comments button at the top and bottom of each article to post your own remarks and observations, and to engage in discussion.
Power Players' Lounge columnists include: Bill Gamber, Joe Hyer, Jennifer Mull, Brad Werntz, Kristin Carpenter-Ogden, John Sterling, Josh Guyot, Mike Wallenfels, Beaver Theodosakis, and Sally Grimes.
This column was written by John Sterling, executive director of The Conservation Alliance (firstname.lastname@example.org).
I have a photo sitting on my desk that means a lot to me. It's not a great photograph, but it represents the great opportunity we have right now -- and for the next four to eight years -- to protect our most special wild places. In the photo, President Obama sits at a small, rustic desk in the White House surrounded by some of our most powerful elected and appointed officials. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stands behind his left shoulder, grinning. Senate Majority Leader Harry Ried stands next to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, both craning their necks to watch. An assortment of Republican and Democratic House and Senate members are arranged in a semi-circle behind Obama as he signs a piece of paper. Not just any paper, but the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, an inadequate name for a bill that permanently protects some of the most exquisite wild areas in the United States.
The bill, which my friends in the conservation community came to call simply "The Omnibus," protects 2 million acres of public land as wilderness, 1,000 miles of rivers as wild and scenic, and prohibits new oil and gas leasing on 1.2 million acres in Wyoming. In his third month in office, President Obama has already protected more public land than his predecessor did in eight years. And the photo on my desk documents an event not seen since Bill Clinton was in office: a signing ceremony for a significant conservation bill.
It means even more to me that the photo was taken not by a White House staffer or a media photographer, but by a friend of mine, Rick Johnson, who runs the Idaho Conservation League, a Conservation Alliance grant recipient. He was invited to the ceremony because his organization played a key role in one part of The Omnibus that protects 500,000 acres of land and 300 miles of rivers in Idaho's Owyhee Canyonlands. Johnson arrived at the White House expecting to stand against the back wall of the room, fighting for a view as Obama signed the bill. When he entered the room, a stiff security agent asked his name, and promptly ushered him to his assigned seat in the front row, just feet from the president. What a difference an election makes.
I've been active in the conservation world since shortly after I graduated college. I worked from 1991-1996 for Earth Island Institute, an organization founded by the now-mythic David Brower. I was fortunate to spend time with Brower near the end of his career, and absorbed his first-hand accounts of leading the Sierra Club in its efforts to create Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, establish the Point Reyes National Seashore, and halt dams on the Colorado River that would have inundated Marble Canyon. I have a picture of Brower at a signing ceremony in 1964 watching President Johnson sign the Wilderness Act into law. Brower's accomplishments seemed to me the work of a long-gone era, and the past 15 years have given me little reason to expect that we can participate in conservation victories as grand as his. Until this year.
The signing of The Omnibus symbolizes that we are at the start of a new era of conservation. We have a president who instinctively cares about the environment. We have significant, pro-conservation majorities in both chambers of Congress. We have a conservation movement that was forced to learn -- during eight years of the most rabidly anti-environmental administration ever -- how to work together, and work effectively. And, perhaps most important, conservation and other environmental issues are increasingly bipartisan commitments. Republicans and Democrats alike are recognizing that a solid majority of Americans want more protected wilderness and rivers, sensible management of our roadless forests, and meaningful action on global warming. This transformation affirms the axiom that if the people lead, the leaders will follow.
So, what does this mean for the outdoor industry? It means that we have great opportunities to protect special wild places that have significant benefits for outdoor recreation. We also have the rare chance to influence decisions on the most historic environmental issue ever to challenge the human race: global warming. Finally, we have better access to decision makers who can implement policies that will encourage Americans to return to the outdoors for fun, adventure, fitness and solace. Opportunity is knocking, and it's up to us to open the door and embrace it. Who knows how long it will last?
Here are a few solid reasons to believe that the outdoor industry voice is increasingly important, and that we'll make the most of the opportunities before us:
1. A growing number of people are recognizing that conservation has economic benefits. For the outdoor industry to thrive, we need protected wild places where customers can use the products we make and sell. Outdoor industry representatives are perfect spokespeople for the perspective that a protected environment supports jobs, and decision-makers listen to that message. In their floor speeches supporting The Omnibus, both Sens. Barbara Boxer and Ron Wyden spoke about the economic benefits of protected wild places, and both quoted Outdoor Industry Association data to support their claims.
2. Through The Conservation Alliance, the industry is funding the most effective grassroots conservation organizations in North America. These groups -- chosen by member companies -- have an outstanding track record of success given adequate financial resources. In a tough economic climate, Conservation Alliance membership is holding steady -- a sign that conservation is a core value of this industry, not an expendable luxury. Now more than ever, our investment in these groups promises a solid ROI.
3. The outdoor industry is at the forefront of policy changes that will encourage Americans, and especially young people, to put down their video game controls and go outside. Interior Secretary Salazar has picked up on this message, and has made it one of his core principles.
4. People are more engaged, and more willing to act. Whether because of the connectivity enabled by social media, or because younger people are more likely to get active on conservation, or because the Obama election filled many more people with a sense of hope and responsibility, or because we feel a renewed sense of possibility after eight years of discouraging environmental policies, people are ready to give democratic action a try once again. In our industry, individuals are ready to write a letter, lobby in Washington, D.C., or spend a day on a stewardship project knowing that their effort may pay off for future generations.
When Bill Clinton was elected more than 16 years ago, the conservation community went to sleep. The good guys are running the show, the thinking went, and they'll do everything we want. Well, it didn't turn out that way. But, history has given us a rare second chance. From an environmental perspective, the good guys are running the show again. But this time, we must remind them every single day that conservation and sensible management of our shared environment is important. The outdoor industry has all the tools we need to do our share of the work necessary to keep our decision makers focused on these core values.
I started this article talking about a White House signing ceremony that actually happened. I'll end talking about a signing ceremony that lives only in the dreams of conservationists. Tomorrow, I board an airplane to Fairbanks, Alaska. From there, I will join several Conservation Alliance members on a float down the Canning River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Our trip will end near the Arctic Ocean on the refuge's coastal plain. This is the place within the refuge that has been targeted for oil development for decades. The fight to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is as iconic as the landscape itself. For the first time in my life, I can envision a political solution to the fight over the refuge. I can -- without stretching my imagination too desperately -- picture a White House ceremony in which our president signs into law permanent protection for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I'll carry that vision with me to Alaska tomorrow, and look forward to working with my colleagues in the outdoor industry to make it happen. Together, there is nothing we cannot accomplish.
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