One conservation program is winning bipartisan support
 

Earlier this year, with overwhelming bipartisan support, Congress permanently reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Now there are serious, bipartisan efforts underway to fully fund it.

The Public Interest Network is best known for our renewable energy campaigns and our consumer watchdog reports. But there have been a number of significant achievements in conservation over the past few decades that can be attributed at least in part to the PIRGs, Environment America and others in our network of organizations.

We have canvassed, organized and lobbied in multiple efforts to keep drilling out of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 1999, we gathered 700,000 of the 1.5 million public comments calling on President Clinton to declare America’s roadless national forests off-limits to development. In 2012, we helped persuade the Obama administration to prohibit new mining in 1 million acres around the Grand Canyon.

Working with our state affiliates, we’ve run even more preservation campaigns that resonate with people who care most about their local parks and public lands. Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area, Barton Springs in Austin, Texas, the New Jersey Highlands, New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, and the San Juan Islands off the coast of Washington are on a long list of places that we’ve helped protect or expand.

Throughout all of these efforts, we’ve stuck with three core principles that hearken back to the environmentalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s:

  1. Focus on the environment as the sine qua non issue, don’t let it be subsumed by another cause.
  2. Work with anybody who agrees with us on the particular goal of each campaign, rather than only allying with people and groups that pass litmus tests.
  3. Go where the fight is, whether the place is blue, red or purple.

Case in point: In August we sent organizers into five states to support the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In Maine, South Carolina, Minnesota, Arizona and Washington, our staff asked PIRG and Environment America members to put up lawn signs, and recruited business owners to put signs on storefronts. They spoke to city councils. And they met thousands of people (with just as many points of view) who were willing to pose, holding our signs, for a photo to show their support for land and water conservation.

In Maine, our organizers asked a man to put up one of our signs. First he said, in classic taciturn Mainer style, that he wasn’t comfortable putting his politics on display. Then, he noticed the sign featured a photo of Acadia National Park.

“I guess,” he said, “I’ll put one of those in my yard. It’s pretty.” In a light rain, he put up the sign on his lawn and our organizers snapped a photo petition.

This story illustrates the principles: We focus on the beauty we’re trying to preserve. And we ask everyone to participate. Because support for the environment is out there, in places where some people might not expect it.

Bills to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund have attracted bipartisan support in both houses of Congress. Stay tuned.