Six industry insiders weigh in on Trump's performance on public lands, climate change, outdoor recreation, and the economy.
So is America great again yet? It may be early on, but the first 100 days in office have been an important benchmark for judging a president’s performance ever since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In that spirit, we asked six panelists from across the outdoor industry to assess President Trump’s progress on four issues dearest to our hearts—and bottom lines.
Meet the panel
Michael Bennet, senator (D-CO)
Blake Henning, chief conservation officer of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Brian Linton, founder and CEO of United by Blue
Jon Snyder, policy advisor for outdoor recreation and economic development to Washington governor Jay Inslee
John Sterling, executive director of the Conservation Alliance
Jessica Wahl, government affairs manager at Outdoor Industry Association
Issue #1: Public lands
Initially, most of our panelists delivered cautious praise for Trump’s actions concerning our favorite playgrounds: Both he and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have said they oppose transferring federal lands to the states and that they want to prioritize fixing a backlog of infrastructure problems. But all that changed on Wednesday, when Trump signed an executive order telling the Department of the Interior to review the designations of a number of existing national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Most panelists spoke out strongly against the order, which could potentially roll back federal protections for a number of national monuments.
“The President's action is an affront to our communities and tribes that have spent years working to protect areas of cultural and historic significance,” Senator Bennet said in a statement released this week. “It is also an infringement on our rural communities, which rely on national monuments and other public lands to support their outdoor recreation economy.” Added Snyder, “I know no one in our state advocating for national monument review.”
Others pointed out that while it is troubling, the executive order hasn’t actually removed any protections—yet. “Though the order calls for a review, and not actual boundary changes, it’s still an unprecedented move,” Sterling said. “Until now, presidents have left their predecessors’ monuments alone. This sets in motion the real possibility that Trump might shrink monuments that we thought were protected permanently.”
Issue #2: Climate change & energy
Across the board, Trump’s actions in this category drew the loudest protests from our panelists. Among their concerns: his executive order rescinding President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which restricted emissions from coal-burning power plants; appointing Scott Pruitt, who has publicly said carbon dioxide is not a primary cause of climate change, to head the Environmental Protection Agency; cutting funding for climate change research; and embracing coal.
“I’m taken aback by the fact that we can be so naïve when it comes to climate change,” said Linton. “Things like rolling back the Clean Power Plan, things that will allow for more coal consumption without regulation, more drilling and energy exploitation, and the general disregard for the long-term implications of that.”
Wahl agreed. “Decreased restrictions on emissions is not good for air quality or the health of people outside,” she said. “And the move to limit regulations on fracking, the guardrails that have been set up to protect the parks and natural landscapes—that’s a concern.”
“The fact that Trump is going to undo the most powerful regulations that Obama put in place is a big step backward,” echoed Sterling. “He has this totally baffling obsession with coal.” And the president’s emphasis on so-called “clean coal” doesn’t impress Sterling, either: “That’s trying to put lipstick on a pig. Everyone knows that coal is the number-one carbon pollution source, and the sooner we can get away from burning it, the better we’ll be.”
The state representatives noted that Trump’s weak stance on climate makes state action all the more critical. “If the leadership in DC isn’t there, it’s important for states to lead on this,” said Snyder, noting that Washington State is acting to limit carbon emissions, expand electric vehicles, and phase out coal power.
“In Colorado, we are committed to combatting climate change, growing our robust outdoor recreation and clean energy economies, and protecting our public lands,” added Bennet. “I will continue to prioritize these issues, despite Washington’s efforts to move us backward.”
The lone bright spot in climate change policy: Trump has not officially withdrawn from the 2015 Paris Agreement. But with all of the president’s rejections of emissions regulation, “It’s only a matter of time before the U.S. will be in breach of it,” said Linton.
Issue #3: Outdoor recreation policy
Last year’s passage of the Outdoor REC Act had the industry cheering for its recognition of outdoor recreation’s economic might—but so far, anyway, panelists said we’ve seen little attention from the administration. “There have been no meetings with outdoor recreation executives, no direct outreach,” noted Wahl.
But Henning was more optimistic: “There have been generally promising signs, like numbers coming out in the last few years about how important outdoor recreation is, and how much it contributes to the economy. And we’re positive about [Interior Secretary] Zinke, being a former Montanan and knowing how important that is to his home state.” As Sec. Zinke said this week in the wake of the Antiquities Act executive order, “The Antiquities Act and the monuments that we have protected have done a great service to the public and are some of our most treasured lands in this country…No one loves our public lands more than I.”
But several panelists pointed out how Trump’s proposed budget cuts to federal land management agencies would hurt outdoor recreation. “He’s taken an axe to the budgets of the agencies that manage public lands—20- to 40-percent cuts to the Department of the Interior, the Park Service, and the Forest Service,” said Sterling. “That’s going to diminish the experience of outdoor recreation on those lands.”
Not to mention the proposed 31-percent cut to the EPA’s budget. “I don’t know if there’s good understanding to how much the EPA benefits the health of our public lands, particularly our public waters,” said Snyder.
The ripple effect of these cuts is what worries Linton: “If we’re not keeping up our parks and bringing in the younger generation and showing them what true wilderness looks like, that’s going to have a trickle-down effect in how we treat things like climate change going forward,” he said.
Issue #4: Economy and trade
The president’s actions on trade similarly concerned our panelists—for the OIA’s Wahl, particularly the withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. “Withdrawing was a disappointment and a missed opportunity, but it wasn’t a surprise,” said Wahl. “With companies that produce overseas, we’re interested in making sure their tariffs are fair and lower, and enforcing US trade laws to make sure labor and environmental standards are being met.”
“We make product everywhere,” added Linton. “It’s incredibly important to have a global supply chain. To add restrictions or tariffs and restrict the flow of goods across the border, even threatening that, is very dangerous for trade.”
And Snyder pointed out that Trump’s focus on employment is missing out on a key sector of the economy. “I appreciate the emphasis on jobs, but I don’t see an appreciation for the outdoor recreation jobs we have in our state and how they’re connected to climate,” he said, citing the salmon fishing, skiing, and whitewater rafting industries as a few that stand to suffer without climate action.
Trump’s 100-day grades
In short: If the outdoor industry were issuing Trump a report card for his first hundred days, it shows he has serious work to do. Though the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Henning gave him an overall B thus far, some other panelist’s grades bottomed out with Ds and F-pluses. That’s just one more reason for the industry—worth $887 billion in consumer spending, according to an OIA report released this week—to speak up even louder.