OIA In D.C.: Notes From the Hill—LWCF Forever

Congress has pass the Natural Resources Management Act, permanently authorizing LWCF and giving OIA our first win of 2019.

Last week, in an overwhelming display of bipartisan support, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Natural Resources Management Act. This comes after it successfully passed through the Senate earlier in February, which means it now goes to the president for his signature. This is an enormous win for the outdoor industry, as the package includes many different components, including permanent reauthorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In this episode, OIA’s Managing Content Editor Deborah Williams sits down with Patricia Rojas-Ungar, OIA’s vice president of government affairs, who recently joined the association. They’ll talk about about what this milestone means for the industry and our members, and the work that still needs to be done.

FIVE TAKEAWAYS:

  • Permanent authorization means this fund is guaranteed for our children and their children. We no longer have to commit our time, resources or energy to reauthorization.
  • The 92-to-8 vote in the Senate and 363-to-62 vote in the House is a clear example of how bipartisan and unifying the outdoors agenda is and the significance of the economic impact that the outdoor economy has across the United States.
  • Our members were highly engaged on this effort, so we’re taking the time to celebrate this win and the lessons that we’ve learned in how we got it done. But we are also focused on our next set of issues that we will be lobbying on. A great opportunity to get engaged on that will be at our Capitol Summit, which is coming up at the end of April and early May.
  • We’ve seen with this package of bills and others that we’re successful when we can localize the issue. The fact is that every elected official has public land in his or her district that contributes to the outdoor recreation economy. The government affairs team at OIA provides a voice here in Washington, but there is so much value in localizing our advocacy work on the ground, close to home. Our members are that voice.
  • Together We Are A Force for public lands policy. Get and stay engaged on OIA’s advocacy center and by signing up for our Policy Alerts at the bottom of that page.

Full transcript

Deborah: Hello and welcome to Audio Outdoorist. I am speaking today with Patricia Rojas-Ungar, our vice president of government affairs. We are celebrating today a big win that occurred yesterday in the House. After the Senate voted last week to pass the National Resources Management Act, the house voted yesterday and also passed the companion legislation to that. Can you talk about what this win means? What some of the wins were, and the legislation it included, and what that means for OIA moving forward?

Patricia: Thanks, Deb. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this. This is such an important victory for the industry at large, and for every outdoorist across America. Congress took the time to approve S47, which is a huge public lands package that includes something that our members, in particular, have been very active on, which is authorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. We all know the importance of this program to our agenda, and to the nation at large. We’ve been working for years authorizing the program three or four years at a time, having to go back to Congress and ask for reauthorization.

The program has been in existence for about 50 years, but we’ve always struggled to go back and make the case for it. This time around we’ve got permanent reauthorization of the program. We can guarantee that in our lifetimes and for generations to come, the program will exist, and we will have a guarantee that the funds will be collected and go directly to an account to fund this program.

Deborah: I think something that is really notable and that we were very excited about is that when this bill was voted on in the senate, it received a 92 to 8 vote, and yesterday in the house it was a 363 to 62 vote, which is certainly worth noting, given how divisive things in D.C. have been. We talk a lot about how unifying public lands can be and have been. What do you take from that, and how do you think that the industry should think about that moving forward as we continue to advocate for public lands and our other policy issues?

Patricia:  Absolutely. I think that this is a clear example of the outdoors agenda and the significance of the economic impact that the outdoor economy has across the United States was able to bring people together. There were so many non-profits, trade associations, and advocates from across the country advocating for this, that it really mounted such a strong campaign and so much momentum to bring this bill across the finish line.

The other thing that I would say is that what was smart about pulling all of these things together—because there were over 100 bills that were pulled together into one package—was that it gave something to almost every Senator to localize. Yes, Land and Water Conservation was included, and it impacts the entire country, and every county in America has benefited from that program. But we also saw 1.3 million acres designated as Wilderness across the United States.

The Every Kid Outdoors program, giving every fourth grader in the country free access to America’s public land and waters, was included in the package. The 21st Century Conservation Corps, providing volunteer opportunities and programs for our veterans and America’s youth, to conserve and rebuild natural resources, was in the bill. Then several other legislative vehicles that conserve new land, such as the Emory County bill or the Mountains-To-Sound Greenway, and the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks. There was an opportunity for members of Congress to say, “We’re doing something that’s good for America as a whole.” But they were also able to point to things in their own backyard that their constituents could really connect to.

The strategy was super effective. I think that there’s a lot to say to the fact that there’s just so much passion and energy around outdoor recreation. We’ve had, for the last four years, advocated on several of these bills. We’ve had hundreds of our own members make phone calls and send letters to members of Congress. We’ve been able to provide the backbone of that by developing the talking points, and easily connecting you to your elected officials. But at the end of the day it’s that motivation to be active and engage that, help this effort along.

We’re so thankful for every one of our OIA members that got engaged. In fact, over the last two weeks we sent out two action alerts to ensure that we were going to have the votes. Both in the senate and the house. Over 200 people quickly responded. There’s a lot to be said for the engagement and passion for the outdoors, and a lot to be said that when we do engage, members of congress do listen and do respond in a favorable way.

Deborah: Great. I think that’s something that we have increasingly seen and has been reinforced over the last few years, with the advocacy work that we’ve done on public land. Thinking about this big win, which it is; it means, as you noted previously, that the work that we had previously been doing every couple of years just to get reauthorization of this fund, we no longer have to commit our efforts to that. We can start focusing on full funding of the program. Which in I think its 50 or so year history has happened only once. Our efforts are certainly going to be focused now, and dedicated toward full funding of Land and Water Conservation Fund. Then there’s also going to be work on other public lands and recreation funding. I’m wondering if you can just talk a little bit on how our members can continue to use this momentum, the success that we’ve had, in reaching our members of Congress and continue that and keep up the passion that has helped to get this bill across the finish line and continue the work that we’re going to be doing for public lands.

Patricia:  Absolutely. I think that there have been hundreds of stories written over the last couple of weeks since the Senate passed this legislation with such a huge margin, and now that the House has adopted it, that speak to the same point.  There aren’t too many times where we see Congress come together these days to pass massive pieces of legislation. This is a clear example of where that bipartisanship did work. We need to utilize that momentum, and the subjects that outdoorists care about, to keep that focus on unity. I think that we can do that on a lot of issues that are going to be of a high profile in this Congress and in the Congress to come.

Whether it’s infrastructure funding for outdoor recreation spaces, or it’s discussion about climate change and how the outdoor industry is directly impacted. We’re also going to be talking about the national parks and the $12 billion maintenance backlog that has yet to be addressed. As you mentioned, Land and Water Conservation is permanently authorized. But that doesn’t mean the full funding has been appropriated. We will have to go back to Congress and say, “Now that you’ve authorized this program, let’s ensure that we get that $900 million that’s been designated for the account to actually go out to local communities.”

Then finally, we’ve been working in a lot of ways to raise the profile of legislation that we’re all familiar with, Recreation Not Red Tape, to ensure that we’re removing some of the regulations that are impeding more access to the outdoors. We have a full portfolio ahead of us as well. We’re taking the time to celebrate this win and the lessons that we’ve learned in how we got this done. But we’re not too far from focusing on the next set of issues that we will be lobbying on. A great opportunity to get engaged on that will be at our Capitol Summit, which is coming up at the end of April and early May. I’m hoping that everyone who was engaged on this public lands bill will sign up for our Capitol Summit.

We’re taking the time to celebrate this win and the lessons that we’ve learned in how we got this done. But we’re not too far from focusing on the next set of issues that we will be lobbying on.

Deborah:  Great. We certainly have had some great turnout in the last few years, when members come to D.C. and communicate with our members directly about their businesses, their values, and their priorities. We’ve also seen through this and through other efforts that even when people can’t get to D.C. that they can engage by using the resources we provide to reach out to their members of Congress directly with letters and phone calls to express how important they think these issues are.

Can you talk about other ways that our members and anyone interested in the work we’re doing can stay engaged and apprised of the work that we’re doing and take action immediately?

Patricia:  You can find our full advocacy platform at outdoorindustry.org. We have an advocacy tab where you can see the issues that are most important to our agenda and also, ways that you can directly engage on a particular issue. We provide talking points. We connect you directly to your elected official and make it as easy and as accessible as possible for anyone who’s interested, and we encourage everyone to become very engaged.

In addition to that, I would say that there other ways that people can participate, either through letters to the editor or an op-ed that they might want to place in their local paper. The fact is that all these things can be localized and are in every elected official’s backyard, and so, yes, we’re providing a voice here in Washington, but there is so much value as we’ve seen in this public land debate in localizing it and our members are that voice. So, we will support our members as much as possible, but if anybody’s interested, we want them to be engaged and contact me directly if you want to be engaged at Projas@outdoorindustry.org. We welcome as many people as possible.

Deborah: Great. I think one thing to add to that too is that we work really to support our member companies. Our member companies have incredible reach through their customers. And so, we’ve seen where our members have taken the information we’ve shared with them, and they’ve figured out how to, like you said, localize it in their communities and with their consumer base. When we all do that, we’ll just continue to rise or lift the tide for public lands.

Deborah: Thank you again, Patricia, for speaking with us and we look forward to doing it again soon.

Patricia: Wonderful. Thanks again, Deb.

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