The outdoor industry's monumental push

Campaigns to convince Obama to use his last months in office to designate national monuments are picking up steam.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Summer Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Aug. 5 – 8. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

ORSM15_PublicLandsConservation

’Tis the season — for making your wish list of wild lands to see protected, that is. Since President Theodore Roosevelt used the powers granted by the Antiquities Act — legislation originally intended to protect Native American heritage sites — to create Devil’s Tower National Monument presidents have used national monuments to preserve public lands.

Each monument is unique in its management rules, and, unlike wilderness areas, can allow for motorized travel and bicycles. The status shields the area from mining, logging and development.

“A national monument carries with it some very real protections, and often times down the road, national monuments become national parks, as is the case with Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and a number of others,” said John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance. “They’re not the highest level of protections we can put on public lands, but it’s very good protection and it’s something that most presidents, Republicans and Democrat, have used over the years to establish for themselves a legacy on the landscape.”

Congress, the only authority that can create wilderness areas, has long ceased to see land conservation as a bipartisan issue (Roosevelt was a Republican, after all) and seems unable to compromise on anything at all. That leaves Obama and his will to leave a legacy of public lands as the industry’s best hope. As the president nears the finish line, conservation groups see the time as ripe for making these requests, and retailers have an opportunity to get involved in those campaigns to rally the kind of public support the administration in particular seeks.

The list of options from which he could choose, and has already chosen, includes several areas long considered for wilderness status, a highly protective land designation that applies to and preserves only those lands where humans have left little to no visible trace.

“At this point [the president] really only has designated monuments that had been considered through legislation, but because of the dysfunction in Congress, the legislation has not passed,” Sterling says. “It’s his way of saying ‘The people want these things. Congress won’t give it to them, so I will.’”

In Colorado, the recently designated Browns Canyon National Monument, popular with rafters and kayakers, was the culmination of a 20-year fight. As the decades passed, a mine began to push to take up residence near the canyon.

“We have such gridlock in Congress … That’s why it’s really critical that Obama do what he’s doing and designate monuments,” says Alan Apt, wilderness chair for the Rocky Mountain State Chapter of the Sierra Club, who campaigned for Browns Canyon for seven years.

“It’s going to be kind of a frantic race to the finish, where people from all these different states are going to be going in on a bended knee and asking Obama to consider all of these national monuments, because nobody knows who the next president is going to be and Congress doesn’t seem to be doing anything. … We have a voracious appetite for energy and these areas need protection.”

Opponents criticize national monuments as “an executive power grab,” but since Clinton’s dramatic designation of Escalante National Monument in Utah (those who saw then-Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt speak at the Winter Market may recall his story of being hanged in effigy for signing off on the monument), the process has involved much more public input.

“I think a lot of the opposition to national monuments has very little to do with the principle of the place itself and more to do with the president dictating something,” Sterling said. Referencing a signature-collecting campaign recently launched by Keen, he adds, “It’s why efforts like these might be a central part of the conservation campaign in the next year.”

This summer, Keen is road-tripping around the country and collecting 100,000 signatures in support of five proposed new national monuments: Gold Butte, Nevada; Mohave Trail Sand to Snow, California; Birthplace of Rivers, West Virginia; Oswhyee Canyon, Oregon and Boulder-Whiteclouds, Idaho, (which is actually on its way to receiving wilderness protection). The list covers 3 million acres that represents a variety of landscapes, from red deserts to river headwaters, across the country.

At the show, Keen is inviting other retailers to join the campaign, and attendees can sign a 40-foot-tall banner that will be sent to Obama and the Department of the Interior near the end of September. An electronic petition will circulate for those unable to attend Outdoor Retailer or other stops around the country.

“Our goal is to really rally the industry to take advantage of this unique opportunity,” said Linda Balfour, marketing manager for Keen and a board member with the Conservation Alliance.

Last fall, when The Conservation Alliance board members took their annual trip to Washington, D.C., they met with U.S. Department of Interior and U.S. Department of Agriculture staff, and the conversation turned to the possibility of seeing an increasing willingness on the part of the president to create new monuments before his term ends in January 2017.

Balfour came back to Keen with the idea of doing something to seize that opportunity. It wasn’t a tough sell.

“Not only is it creating legacy for future generations, the more of those dollars that we can put back into actions that protect the environment, the more people are going to get out there, and the more products they need,” she said. “It starts this virtuous circle that’s good for people, it’s good for the environment and it’s good for business.”

For other retailers looking to get involved in the push for more monuments, Sterling suggests finding a local area to support, and going into it aware that, as with all political stances, not every customer will get on board. The president is particularly conscious of social media, and Sterling says the Obama administration has told him they like seeing Facebook or Instagram campaigns that show public support. Looking at Obama’s designations of monuments like one near Los Angeles in an area popular with Latinos and a site commemorating the Underground Railroad in Illinois, he added, “if there’s a storyline related to a moment that serves a nonwhite community, it probably stands a better chance.”

Given the July announcement of three new national monuments in Nevada, California and Texas, the president seems amendable to the project.

--Elizabeth Miller

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