For the next two days, I’ll blogging from The High Lonesome Ranch in De Beque, Colorado, where the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) is holding its 8th annual Western Media Summit. The event brings together outdoor journalists from around the country to discuss the most pressing conservation issues of the day. Orvis is one of the sponsors of the summit, so I’m out here with Orvis vice chair Dave Perkins, Rod & Tackle marketing manager Tom Rosenbauer, and hunting product developer Brett Ference to help advance the causes that are part of the Orvis Commitment. We’re joined by media representatives from Field & Stream, Sporting Classics, The Drake, the Salt Lake Tribune, and many others.
The TRCP takes its inspiration from a 1912 statement by Teddy Roosevelt that “There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country” and the organization has a very simple and clear mission statement: In order to guarantee all Americans quality places to hunt and fish, we strengthen laws, policies and practices affecting fish and wildlife conservation by leading partnerships that influence decision makers. The agenda for the summit covers such topics as the economics of the outdoor-recreation industry and how that economic power can be leveraged to help pass conservation legislation; the role of energy in large landscape conservation; and building support for private lands conservation.
Frank Hugelmeyer, of the OIA, argues that all segments of the outdoor industry must work together to flex their economic muscle and influence the legislative process.
The event kicked off last night with an impassioned presentation by Frank Hugelmeyer, president of the Outdoor Industry Association. His main argument was that we now face an environmental crisis because federal and state dollars for conservation are on the chopping block all around the country. In the name of “fiscal responsibility” and “deficit reduction,” politicians are looking to cut funds for vital programs such as the Clean Water Act and loosen (or remove altogether) regulations put in place to prevent the environment from poorly planned or unscrupulous development.
If we are going to stop these things from happening, Hugelmeyer said, all players from all segments of the outdoor industry must come together to use their combined power. The problem, he said, is that each niche group—whether it’s fly fishing, hunting, kayaking, hiking, etc.—is currently acting independently of the others, which means that no one group wields much power when making arguments about its economic importance in relation to extractive industry, land development, etc.
Hugelmeyer presented some mind-blowing statistics, showing that—as a whole—the outdoor industry outpaces even the oil-and-gas industry in overall revenues, yet outdoor concerns don’t get the respect they deserve in the political process. When legislators say that opening roadless areas to development will create jobs, they don’t understand that there are already jobs there: backpacking outfitters, fishing and hunting guides, etc. The outdoor industry creates jobs, generates an astonishing amount of revenue, pays higher excise taxes than other industries on imported goods, yet still has no powerful voice to make those arguments because of the fragmentation of the various niche groups.
While the argument seems clear-cut, getting all the players to sing from the same hymnal is a tall order. Mike Toth, executive editor of Field & Stream, was talking about the challenges of getting hardcore hunters to join forces with groups that may have very different philosophies. But Hugelmeyer’s point is that there is no alternative: if the outdoor industry doesn’t come together and flex some united political muscle, it won’t have a seat at the table when important conservation decisions are being made.
We need to get outdoorsmen and women of all stripes to put pressure on their legislators to maintain vital environmental protections and to not let bogus economic arguments—those that deny the impact of outdoor sports—be used as political cover. We will follow up on these ideas in future posts.
More from Colorado tomorrow!