Chicago is a wonderful city in many ways, but residents virtually never hear about federal land and water issues that are important topics elsewhere in the United States.
Outdoor recreation, particularly as it involves federal land and water matters, does not often make headlines in Chicago. We might hear about matters involving the local beaches, and recreation on the Chicago River is now a popular topic. However, issues pertaining to federal land rights and water access are rarely discussed here.
At the end of April, I had the opportunity to attend the annual Capital Conservation Awards Dinner of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership in Washington, D.C. During the same week, it just so happened that the Outdoor Industry Association held its annual Capitol Summit event to lobby Congress about outdoor recreation issues and trade issues affecting the outdoor recreation industry. These are two of the leading outdoor recreation organizations that work to protect and enhance outdoor recreation, the outdoor recreation industry, and the environment. I was able to attend functions of both groups, and the experience was enlightening and eye-opening.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership’s annual dinner was a large event that hosted several senators and representatives. The Outdoor Industry Association’s lobbying event was a chance both to educate business leaders about key legislative matters and to meet members of Congress to advocate on these issues. Both organizations have unique purposes that tie sports, business and legal issues together. Both organizations also support legislation to protect against climate change.
The Roosevelt partnership is a coalition of conservation organizations and outdoor-related businesses, the main goal of which is increased federal funding for conservation while preserving access for hunters and fishermen and women. The partnership works to enhance fish and wildlife habitat conservation programs to help bolster the outdoor recreation industry. It has also lobbied policymakers to do more to address the challenge of climate change, which they say will have a significant impact on the outdoor community.
In recent comprehensive omnibus appropriations bills passed by Congress, the partnership worked to protect funding for significant conservation programs, including the Land and Water Conservation Fund, North American Wetlands Conservation Act, and the state and tribal wildlife grants program. All of these programs had been slated for significant funding reductions by Congress. The National Wildlife Refuge System also was marked for decreased funding but eventually received a 4 percent increase in funding.
The Outdoor Industry Association is the leading trade association of the outdoor recreation industry. The association was founded in 1989 and today serves more than 4,000 manufacturers, distributors, suppliers, sales representatives and retailers. Its government affairs team works in Washington to represent the interests of its members at the federal level, lobbying Congress and relevant federal agencies on key issues relating to outdoor recreation and the outdoor business industry. Among other things, they work to eliminate trade barriers and high tariffs, particularly for those outdoor products with little commercial domestic competition. The association also supports federal policies that serve to help U.S. manufacturers in relation to outdoor products made in the U.S., and it organizes the outdoor retailer trade shows in Salt Lake City for the outdoor recreation industry.
The trip to Washington and the events of the two organizations opened my eyes to significant land and water issues at the federal level. It was exciting to talk with senior business leaders and members of Congress about these issues that affect millions of outdoor recreation enthusiasts as well as the thousands of small businesses serving the outdoor recreation industry.
No matter how much of Chicago’s news is taken up by shootings, corruption and lack of money, I now know that there are many other critical issues being discussed each day around the country.
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