H.R. 621 Is Dead. Meet The Woman Who Helped Kill It.

The quick withdrawal of H.R. 621 is proof that advocacy works. Outdoor Alliance's Tania Lown-Hecht quarterbacked the outdoor user community's effort to defeat the bill. Here, she explains the game plan and offers play-by-play.

By Jessica Wahl February 3, 2017

Several years ago, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) introduced a bill that proposed the sell-off of 3.3 million acres of public lands. The bill gained little traction, was reintroduced several times, and stalled in the House. But, last month, amid renewed threats by the incoming Congress to sell or transfer our national lands, Chaffetz reintroduced the bill. Outdoorists from around the country were outraged and afraid that the public land heist might become a reality. Thanks to the vigilance of concerned outdooists and the leadership of OIA partner organizations like Outdoor Alliance and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, democracy won. Yesterday Chaffetz announced on his Facebook and Twitter accounts that he had heard the public opposition and that he would withdraw H.R. 621.

In a blog post this morning, Outdoor Alliance gave due credit to the outdoor community: “Over 4,000 of you wrote letters to your lawmakers, and thousands more have called their lawmakers’ offices to voice their support for public lands. Along with outdoor recreation advocates, sportsmen and outdoor businesses were vocal in their opposition to these bills. This unusually intense outpouring of support for public lands had a real impact.”

We feel Outdoor Alliance deserves more credit than they’re taking for the organized and effective opposition. So we reached out to Outdoor Alliance’s Communications Director Tania Lown-Hecht, a graduate of OIA’s Skip Yowell Future Leadership Academy, to applaud and learn about OA’s strategy for engaging and activating the movement. 

OIA: When you learned that Congressman Chaffetz had reintroduced H.R. 621, what was your first move?

Tania Lown-Hecht: Before doing anything else, our amazing team of policy experts from our 8 member groups (Access Fund, American Alpine Club, American Whitewater, American Canoe Association, IMBA, Winter Wildlands, The Mountaineers, and Mazamas) looked at the bill and wanted to know what lands were at risk in the 3.3 million acres he named, and what our next action should be. When it was first released, the bill went live without any text, so were watching and waiting to read the actual bill and figure out what it meant. 

OIA: What was OA’s plan for galvanizing your user community members? How did that inform your communications strategy?

TLH: Once we got our heads around the bill, we acted quickly to share the news with our community with a quick blogpost and some social media. We try not to inundate people with emails, so our Facebook page has become ground zero for tracking and sharing updates on legislation. Most of the time, when there are really bad bills, our community shares them far and wide so we can reach a lot of people. That post reached well over 20,000 people organically.

Video: Make Friends and Influence People in Washington

OIA: What was your “ask” of OA members and how did you present it?

TLH: The “ask” of OA’s community was to write or call their House representative, express concern about this bill (and H.R. 622) and ask them to protect public lands. We have a really great tool that makes it easy for people to write directly to their member of Congress (here’s a link to the action page we shared on H.R. 621 and H.R. 622).

Read Jess Wahl’s recent blog, “4 Reasons To Be Optimistic About Ryan Zinke,” to learn more about OIA’s stance on public lands and recreation policy.

OIA: There is a real art to communicating policy issues in a way that encourages engagement. What’s your secret?

TLH: I work with a lot of policy experts, lawyers and PhDs and people who are incredibly well-versed in public lands legislation. They are absolutely incredible. I like to joke that my secret is staying significantly stupider than them, because it helps me ask the questions that the general public would ask, and helps me figure out how to frame things in a way I think most people will understand. I can’t take too much credit right now, because I think the public is incredibly alert to advocacy and to what Congress is up to, and most people are eager to understand even complex details right now.

OIA: OA did an excellent job of aligning the business voice and the community voice. How did you do it?

TLH: Thanks! We are so lucky to work closely with all the incredible people at OIA, and since we are in DC we are especially grateful to see Jess Wahl (OIA’s government affairs manager) on a regular basis and consult with her. I think there is a natural alignment between the outdoor business voice and the outdoor recreation user voice. Plus, many of the people in our community work or have worked in the outdoor industry.

OIA: What does this success mean?

TLH: This success is a really big deal. The public land heist issue is still alive and kicking–we are watching three more bills right now that would have a major impact on public land management and ownership. But the success we had with H.R. 621 is a great bellwether. It tells us that people are paying good attention to policy right now and they are not afraid to share their voices, often loudly and passionately. Lawmakers are not used to hearing this actively from constituents, and honestly I think they are a bit spooked by how much their voters are reaching out. It’s a really promising sign that when the public is vocal, lawmakers will have no choice but to listen.