5 Ways the Outdoor Alliance Is Saving Wild Places

Photo: Leslie Kehmeier/Outdoor Alliance

This nonprofit has given national conservation efforts a critical boost.

Here’s a good problem to have: In the early 2000s, there were many small advocacy organizations lobbying for their individual outdoor interests in Washington D.C., representing kayakers, bikers, climbers, hikers, and more. The problem? Lots of passion, not a lot of collaboration. 

“Eventually it was like, why aren’t these groups talking to each other? Why aren’t they working together?” says Tania Lown-Hecht, Communications Director at the Outdoor Alliance. The disparate groups soon united under the umbrella of the Outdoor Alliance (which got 501c3 status in 2014) to increase their muscle. Today, the Outdoor Alliance is a coalition of 10 different groups that represents the interests of the human-powered outdoor recreation community.

“When we work together and unite our voices we have more of an influence on policy outcomes. That’s what we did and it’s been incredibly effective,” says Lown-Hecht. Public Lands is proud to support the Outdoor Alliance in its efforts to protect the country’s wild places. Here’s how they’re getting it done.   

1. Making Policy Accessible

It can be hard to understand all the intricacies of different pieces of legislation. The Outdoor Alliance works to translate policy and make it digestible for everyone.

“Even for the people doing this work it can feel really complicated,” says Lown-Hecht. “A big part of what we do is just analyze policy and make it accessible. We give you the digest of what you care about and what you can do about it.”

In doing that, the Outdoor Alliance provides folks with the relevant policy information that affects the places and issues close to their hearts. When people have a good understanding of an issue they are better prepared to take action.

2. Providing Opportunities for Action

Maybe you care deeply about an issue, but are unsure about the best thing to do to help. The Outdoor Alliance helps people participate in politics and advocacy by giving them the right tools, and by telling them when and how to use them.

“Part of our strength is bringing the outdoor community together and giving them really meaningful ways to take action on things and bring their voices together when it matters most,” says Lown-Hecht. This could include things like signing petitions, letter-writing campaigns, and calling representatives in Congress. The Outdoor Alliance has a guide called Advocacy 101 that breaks down things like how to call your elected officials, how to raise money for a cause, and how to keep up with the issues you care about. Just a few hundred letters can make a big difference. “Part of what we do is try to channel people’s passion for the places they live in, and help them protect those places. Everytime you make a phone call or write a letter, it really does make a tremendous difference overall.”

Outdoor Alliance  CEO Adam Cramer and one of American Whitewater's Policy Directors, Thomas O'Keefe, in DC. Photo: Outdoor Alliance

3. Unifying Outdoor Groups

Lown-Hecht says that the member groups are most often in agreement on issues, but there are times where it’s more difficult to find consensus. That’s not surprising when you consider the coalition’s wide range of members: Access Fund, American Canoe Coalition, American Whitewater, International Mountain Biking Association, Winter Wildlands Alliance, The Mountaineers, American Alpine Club, Mazamas, Colorado Mountain Club, and the Surfrider Foundation. For the collective power of the Outdoor Alliance to be fully realized, presenting a united front is key. To get past disagreements the coalition members start with their common ground. Then they use data and mapping to dig into the details and get a clear visual on the trails, interest groups, land types, terrain, and access issues at hand.

“Once you get it winnowed down to just the one small thing, it becomes a lot more manageable,” Lown-Hecht says. This consensus building is key for the larger human-powered community because it means the complexities of each policy have been both thoroughly examined and agreed upon by all the interest groups that are part of the larger coalition.

4. Paying Attention to the Details 

The Outdoor Alliance has been instrumental in getting multiple major public land packages passed (like the Great American Outdoors Act) and helped secure permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. But the group also works on issues you likely have never heard of—issues that might be obscure but have significant impact. Take the roadless rule, which essentially affects one-third of national forestlands. The rule means that you can’t develop roadless backcountry areas and therefore provides protection for millions of acres of public land (if you like to play outside, you’ve likely recreated in a roadless area without knowing it). When a number of states asked for exceptions from the rule, the Outdoor Alliance intervened and helped secure protection for millions of acres.

Bottom line: The Outdoor Alliance is an eager watchdog paying attention to critical issues across the board that affect their members and the future of the outdoors.

5. Leading with Hope 

It can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed or consumed by negativity when thinking about climate change and other threats to natural places, but the Outdoor Alliance is leading the charge with hope and optimism. That matters.

“There’s just a tremendous amount of momentum, political will, and passion in the outdoor community. I think we’re seeing a new kind of conservation movement that has a lot of energy and a lot of bipartisan power,” says Lown-Hecht. “I feel tremendously hopeful.” 

It’s also helpful to remember that everything has an impact. “It isn’t just about what oil and gas companies are doing. It’s also about what your neighborhood is doing,” she says. 

This could mean making sure your community is adding or protecting parks, greenspace, and trees. The Outdoor Alliance leads with positivity and optimism and inspires the rest of us to do the same.  

The Public Lands Fund is proud to support the Outdoor Alliance, an organization representing a growing community of outdoor advocates focused on preserving public lands.

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.