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American People to Washington, DC: “We Just Want to Get Outdoors”
How do you get kids, hunters, veterans, ranchers, rock-climbers, archaeologists, birdwatchers, urban planners, business leaders, health advocates and more to fly to DC and go to the same reception? Besides good food and cold drinks? By celebrating America’s great outdoors of course.
September 19-25 was the first annual Great Outdoors America Week, a celebration of our nation’s wild places and green spaces. At a time when Congress is bitterly divided on so many issues it was refreshing to see a wide variety of diverse groups and individuals come together under one cause: connecting with the outdoors.
Hundreds of people volunteered time, money and energy to make the trip to our nation’s capitol to call on key decision-makers to protect our natural heritage. One theme I heard as I went from event to event (eating the entire time) was the concern that future generations will not have as many opportunities as we do to work, play and recharge our batteries outside.
The response from Congress and the Obama administration was overwhelmingly positive. High-ranking officials from every federal agency that manages land and water praised the participants efforts and made links to the administration’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative.
Big events on Capitol Hill raised the visibility of different priorities related to the great outdoors. Several receptions (I think I gained 5 lbs over the week) honored important champions of the outdoors, including Latino leaders in honor of Hispanic Heritage month. We also honored dozens of other Members of Congress that are key players on issues related to sportsmen, wilderness, wildlife, urban parks, forests, agriculture, connecting Americans to the outdoors and preservation of cultural resources and historic places.
Even as someone who works on conservation policy for a living, I learned a lot, especially from the Congressional briefings. One briefing showed the economic and health benefits of getting outside in nature and the other briefing dealt with issues of concern for sportsmen. The sportsmen briefing explained to capitol hill staff that hunting and angling contributes $76 billion per year to our economy, an economic force in jeopardy from attacks to programs that support the sportsmen way-of-life, like the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The briefing also covered threats from harmful proposals that literally give away our shared public lands, including many wild places that provide access to quality hunting, fishing, wildlife-watching and other recreational opportunities.
Great Outdoors America Week, which includes National Hunting and Fishing Day and National Public Lands Day, doesn’t have to end with the weekend. The National Wildlife Federation will be here year-round to celebrate nature and protect wildlife for future generations, but we need your help. Tell your “Great Outdoors” story to anyone who will listen, including your elected officials. You never know who will be inspired to join the effort to defend the outdoors experience.