Why Voting for the Outdoors Matters—and How to Do It


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Editor’s note: We would like to be clear that we understand opinions on the midterm elections vary and that REI maintains a strongly nonpartisan stance across a range of policy topics. We do, however, engage on those that matter to the outdoors and our community

We’ll be brief: Elections matter to the outdoors. So your vote matters.

Just 63 percent of the U.S. civilian voting-age population voted in the 2016 presidential election, according to the U.S. Election Assistance Commission. Even fewer typically participate in midterm elections, with the U.S. Census Bureau reporting that 41.9 percent of voting-age citizens took part in the 2014 midterms. Those numbers need to change, especially if the full voice of Americans who love the outdoors is to be heard.

The upcoming midterm elections on November 6 will impact the public lands and waters we enjoy—the outdoor access that affects your quality of life. As you consider a variety of factors when evaluating your ballot, we put together this guide to give you a sense of the types of issues that shape the outdoors.

“It’s our right and responsibility to vote,” said Taldi Harrison, government and community affairs manager at REI. “If voting for the outdoors is important to you, think about voting for access to the outdoors and funding to help ensure our shared outdoor infrastructure is maintained. Think about voting for a healthy environment and access to our shared public lands. Think about voting for community-level policies to help ensure the outdoors are a part of our lives.”

Consider Candidates’ Positions on the Outdoors

At REI, we’re decidedly nonpartisan and don’t endorse candidates. But we do support an active electorate. Elections are not just about picking a candidate. They are about supporting the policies that a candidate will work to advance after the election because those policies influence a legislative agenda that extends well beyond any particular candidate’s term.

You could consider candidates’ positions on issues like:

Outdoor Recreation Economy

The outdoor recreation economy is a dynamo: It employs 7.6 million Americans, generates $887 billion in consumer spending and accounts for 2.2 percent of total U.S. GDP. And it’s a segment of the economy that’s expanding. In fact, it’s growing faster than the overall U.S. economy, which can lead to the creation of even more jobs. If you value the outdoors and the positive impact of the recreation economy, look for candidates who support the vital role the outdoors has on our quality of life and our economic health.

Public Lands and Waters

Conservation of local, state and federal public lands and waters preserves our natural resources for future generations and helps protect the overall health of our environment. Responsible stewardship of the planet impacts everyone’s future. Think about supporting candidates who support conservation measures, endorse infrastructure funding and defend the right to make the outdoors accessible to everyone. For incumbent candidates, look for those who have supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which benefits both the outdoor recreation economy and the maintenance of its infrastructure.

National Parks Preservation

Every year, hundreds of millions of visitors enjoy our National Park System. There were nearly 331 million visits in 2017 alone. Funding to address a nearly $12 billion backlog of park and infrastructure maintenance will help preserve the experience. Has a candidate expressed support for decreasing that maintenance backlog?

Climate Change

Climate change may be the biggest threat to the future of life outdoors. Earlier this month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a significant report that found “limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” Consider candidates who support policies designed to mitigate its effects in the short- and long-term.

Ballot Initiatives to Watch

Across the country, voters will also decide on a number of ballot initiatives that impact outdoor recreation. Here are a few key ones worth watching.

Connecticut: Constitutional Amendment Question 2

This amendment to the state constitution would protect public lands and waters by requiring public hearings on significant land sales and transfers, and a two-thirds majority vote by both the state House of Representatives and Senate.

Colorado: Denver Referred Measure 2A: Parks, Trails and Open Space Tax

This measure would increase the sales tax by 0.25 percent, with funds dedicated to acquiring and maintaining new land for parks, trails and open spaces for expanded public access and use. How Denver residents vote will be telling.

Georgia: Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Amendment (Amendment 1)

The proposed amendment to the state constitution would allow up to 80 percent of revenue from existing sales taxes on sporting and outdoor recreation equipment sales to be dedicated to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Trust Fund, which supports land conservation.

Washington: Initiative 1631

This landmark ballot measure in REI’s home state aims to reduce carbon pollution by investing in clean energy, healthy forests and waters, and in communities most impacted by changes to the climate. If passed, the biggest emitters of carbon pollution would pay a fee beginning in 2020. The fee would increase by $2 annually until Washington’s greenhouse gas reduction targets are met.

Learn More: Understanding Initiative 1631

Conservation Dollars in Action

The Trust for Public Land offers an overview, organized by state, of conservation ballot questions that would dedicate revenue to the protection of public lands and improved stewardship of natural resources. In November, billions of dollars in conservation finance measures are up for a vote.

Knowledge is Power

Get informed before you vote. Here are a few additional resources.

Outdoor Industry Association 2018 Voters Guide

OIA, a trade association for the outdoor industry, provides information on key ballot initiatives and a voters guide for the upcoming midterm elections.

American Hiking Society: Vote Public Lands

The American Hiking Society provides a public lands policy checklist for voters and an overview of key issues impacting public lands.

Register to Vote

Election Day is Tuesday, November 6. Make sure you’re registered to vote by your state’s deadline. Check your state’s registration dates and requirements here.

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