Featured Organization: America's Outdoor Industry: Voices for Protecting Our Wilderness

Among the most powerful voices speaking up for protection of wilderness and roadless lands are the manufacturers and retailers of America's outdoor recreation industry.

This industry is no small voice. It represents 1,200 suppliers, manufacturers, retailers, and associations. Collectively, the outdoor industry contributes $750 billion annually to the U.S. economy and 6.5 million jobs. During a time of economic challenge, the industry has been growing steadily, recently at a rate of 6% per year--tangible evidence that the American people use and love their public lands.

Outdoor industry leaders fully appreciate that they are dependent on the conservation of public lands and clean waters, healthy wildlife (and the protected habitats on which species live), and the kind of culturally and historically significant landscapes which reflect the rich history of America's pioneer heritage. For this reason, industry leaders often step up to help lead the charge on behalf of strong conservation initiatives—and to oppose those that endanger the wild places where their customers use the products companies make and sell.

This is why you will find long lists of outdoor retailers and manufacturers at the forefront of campaigns to protect wild places. A pertinent example is the local business support for H.R. 163, the bill championed by Idaho's Representative Mike Simpson (R) to protect broad recreational opportunities, including wilderness areas, in the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains of central Idaho. More than 130 Idaho business leaders (outdoor businesses and many other kinds) signed a joint letter to Congress urging enactment of this bill.

Lisa Leff of Trillium Asset Management, said: "My firm manages $750 million for clients who are concerned about investing for both financial return and environmental responsibility. This dual mission provides us with great opportunities, because as investment managers, we know that environmental protection can lead to sustainable and often superior economic outcomes. For Idaho, protecting wilderness is an important component of an economic strategy that will lead to a more diverse, stable, and prosperous state economy.”

The national voices for the outdoor industry are the Outdoor Industry Association and The Conservation Alliance, both found in the forefront of campaigns for wilderness and other forms of protection for our public lands.

The most immediate example of this important industry leadership is the way that these industry associations—and the owners and leaders of individual outdoor companies—have stepped up to oppose one of the greatest threats to America's wilderness in the last half century, the proposed “Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act of 2011.” In a nutshell, this legislation proposes to cut-off current protection and block further studies of more than 60 million acres of potential wilderness areas on public lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. In the U.S. House of Representatives the bill is H.R. 1581, championed by Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA); in the Senate the identical bill is S. 1087, sponsored by Senator John Barrasso, (R-WY).

As Outdoor Industry Association president Frank Hugelmeyer wrote to Congress in May, this legislation “threatens the sustainability of the resources that ensure our (industry's) economic future.” He continued:

“The argument that (this legislation) is needed to promote multiple use management of our public lands does not hold up. Far more acres of federal land are already open to resource extraction and motorized recreation than are preserved for their wilderness qualities. Nonetheless, the Wilderness and Roadless Area Release Act would create an even more uneven playing field by wiping out interim protections for lands with any wilderness potential.”

In support of this, Hugelmeyer stressed that the 1960 Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act” explicitly states that “The establishment and maintenance of areas of wilderness are consistent with the purpose and provisions of this Act.”

The Conservation Alliance operates by mobilizing the leaders of its members companies to take their conservation message directly to Congress.

Today, the Conservation Alliance's members range from major outdoor equipment and clothing manufacturers and retailers to Backpacker Magazine, Clif Bars, and Burt's Bees. Member companies pay annual dues into a central fund from which the Alliance donates 100 percent to grassroots organizations working to protect wild places. View an online list of members. So, when you next patronize your local or online outdoor retailers, be sure to express your appreciation that they and their associations speak out on behalf of sound protections for the wild places you use and enjoy.