The outdoor community’s rally of support for public lands has been dubbed the “tip of the spear.”  A year has now passed and it’s time to take stock. The outdoor industry remains unquestionably united in an uproar without precedent, but why here, why now and where will this spear thrust next?

As outfitter to adventurers and explorers of wild spaces, the outdoor industry is uniquely positioned to raise awareness of conservation issues. Certainly, several brands and industry organizations have acted as conservation advocates for years, but without broadcasting their standpoints in any significant manner outside the outdoor community.

This all changed with the battle over Bears Ears, where television and radio ads, website and social media awareness campaigns, petitions, lobbying and legal actions combined to resemble a full-blown Greenpeace campaign. Yet the people leading the charge were not hardened activists: they were the people behind your favorite backpack.

A year has passed and while the outdoor community remains unquestionably united in an uproar without precedent, perhaps now is the time for sober reflection. What happened, why, and what next?


What just happened at Bears Ears?

Outdoor is an industry that is perhaps unrivalled in its dependence on the conservation of wild spaces. Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that it responded as though its life depended on it. In a sense, it did. Looking back on this last year, Executive Director of Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) Amy Roberts reflects:

“The fight over Bears Ears galvanized the outdoor industry like never before.  Public lands enthusiasts of all political stripes suddenly realized our national heritage could be under threat and came together as hunters, anglers, hikers and mountain bikers to speak up for one of our greatest national ideals, our system of public lands.”


Drawing the next public lands battle lines

On December 4th, President Trump signed a proclamation in favor of reducing the Bears Ears monument by 85% – from 1.5 million acres to a mere 228,784 acres. Despite losing the battle the war rages on, though now largely out of the limelight as the fray moves into the courtrooms. And it should be pointed out that there is much to indicate that the mobilisation of the outdoor community helped save numerous national monuments from a similar fate.

Today, new fields of outdoor industry activism are already emerging, indicating that this might be more than just a passing trend:

“One less high-profile – but as important – issue is the fact that Congress is not adequately funding our public lands system,” explains Amy Roberts, referring to the ongoing advocacy efforts to re-authorize the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) that remains expired at press time. The LWCF previously provided US $900 million annually to public lands.

“Our industry is also very active around encouraging people to get educated on the issues and then register to vote, in promoting informed consumer choices with regards to sustainability as well as calling for action on climate change.”


A cry for conservation leadership

After a year of victories and defeats, the outdoor community is beginning to appreciate the limitations of its own arsenal and the relative strength of their opponents. Whether we like it or not, the outdoor industry has both assumed, and been endowed with, a responsibility – and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon. “We have learned that our voices matter and that our customers expect our brands to make their voices heard on issues of conservation,” says Amy Roberts.

Jonathan Fraenkel-Eidse

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