We Must Take the Long View on Public Lands

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Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us."

On Monday, the President undercut that mission with his order to dramatically shrink Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments in Utah. The decision is a direct blow to more than 100 years of bipartisan work to protect this country’s parks, deserts, waters, prairies and forests, which tens of millions of Americans from all backgrounds cherish and enjoy annually. Destabilizing the underlying legislative mechanisms used by 16 presidents hurts the people who love these places and threatens the $887 billion outdoor economy, including more than 7 million workers.

We need leaders who will stand up for public lands. REI will redouble its efforts to reach across party lines, to ensure that the outdoors never becomes a red or blue issue. REI and the outdoor industry must take the long view. Deserts, mountains and waterways can be exploited with a stroke of a pen. But preserving these assets for our children is the work of multiple generations. We put the long-term health of the outdoors ahead of short-term wins. That includes evading the trap of making this a partisan discussion. It is not.

Many would argue that elected and appointed officials are tasked with having that same perspective—particularly ones charged with stewarding the outdoors, and ones who have said repeatedly that “you can’t love public lands more than I do.”

Eliminating 2 million acres of protected public lands flies in the face of a century of bipartisan stewardship. It ignores nearly 3 million people who wrote to the Department of the Interior this year, appealing for these monuments to remain intact. Their voices were cast aside.

The decision contrasts coarsely with what we see each day, online and in our own experiences outdoors. Look at the Administration’s social media channels or visit our national parks and forests. Tens of millions of people enjoy these places and share that love minute to minute. Our public lands are for everyone. Hunters and hikers. Bikers and backpackers. Young and old. Women and men. All races. This love for our shared public lands is uniquely American. It’s unifying and joyful. We need as much of that right now as we can get.

This is not the first setback the outdoors has absorbed of late. But it’s also a forcing function to choose what happens next. There will be range of responses from the outdoor community. REI will press forward with the same philosophy, creating a big tent in support of our public lands. Helping cities and states invest in places for the enjoyment of their people. Helping to build the outdoor infrastructure that our industry and our fellow Americans depend on and enjoy.

Cooperation is needed. What happened this week is a loss, but we know there are many leaders in both houses and in both parties who recognize the economic value of an $887 billion outdoor economy and the way of life it supports. We appeal to them to see this as a serious wake-up call and to help tackle the systemic underfunding of our public lands. And to those who want their stump speeches about loving public lands to be more than words, now is the time to match sentiment with action.

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