A Natural Alliance, Finally

By Beacon Staff

For years, I’ve been writing about natural alliances, or lack thereof, so I was delighted to get this “Red Alert” press release.

The first paragraph: “A consortium of prominent outdoor-oriented groups has united in support of responsible management of inventoried roadless areas with a goal of sustaining the high-quality sporting and recreational opportunities provided by America’s backcountry. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Outdoor Industry Association and Outdoor Alliance, together representing millions of public-lands users, have sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging that a directive be issued requiring high-level review of proposed development of roadless areas until permanent rules for their management can be resolved.”

The wording might be a yawner to some, but to me, it shouts, “about time!”

This triumvirate of powerful coalitions all pulling hard, side-by-side, in the same direction – like a troika – could quickly become the most influential lobby in protecting roadless lands and non-motorized recreation. Finally, anglers, climbers, hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, paddlers and skiers are all on the same page.

It might be easy to underestimate the significance. Most media didn’t cover the creation, let alone earlier joint efforts by the same threesome in support of climate change legislation and the Omnibus Public Lands Bill. In addition, I suspect many readers don’t know much about these three collectives. Each is a combine of partners collectively representing millions of like-minded, muscle-powered people.

The Outdoor Industry Association (OIA) is a trade group representing most outdoor manufacturers and a few retailers; hundreds of companies that make virtually anything you buy at an outdoor retailer.

The Outdoor Alliance (OA) is a relatively new union of six “human-powered” recreation groups that really needed to get together: Access Fund, American Canoe Association, America Hiking Society, American Whitewater, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA), and Winter Wildlands Alliance.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, created only seven years ago, has rapidly put together a stunning consortium of major “hook and bullet” groups, professional groups like the American Fisheries Society and Wildlife Management Institute, land trusts like The Nature Conservancy and Trust for Public Land, the International Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, which represents most state and federal land-managing and wildlife agencies, the Union Sportsman’s Alliance, which represents twenty trade unions, and many hunting and fishing equipment manufacturers

I’d bet a week’s worth of microbrew that you’ve never before seen those companies and nonprofits on the same list going the same direction on the same issue. If I were a lobbyist for the motorized recreation, mining or other single-use industries, I’d be adding up these numbers and starting to think about a career change or retirement.

What the new outdoor troika wants from Vilsack is no more roads for two or three years while they develop and take to Congress a detailed strategy for the future of those 58.5 million acres of national forest.

We have, incidentally, 193 million acres of national forests, roughly two-thirds already devoted to natural resource extraction and crisscrossed with around 375,000 miles of roads. But we have been running in place for 20 years or more trying to decide what to do with the remaining one-third.

Politically, this outdoor troika becomes the 900-pound green gorilla with enough muscle to finally make something happen. After having long phone conversations with all three of these groups, though, I detected some hesitancy on whether they would proactively and collectively come up with a plan for our roadless lands, but now, they must take the lead. If they don’t, who will?

But developing this plan will cause some internal strife. The outdoor troika must carefully proceed to avoid stepping on the toes of that proverbial Elephant in the Room –Wilderness.

In some cases, national groups like the Wilderness Society and Sierra Club that have been leading the fight for roadless lands won’t settle for anything less than Wilderness. But will the Outdoor Troika support Wilderness? I doubt it. This internal debate for the future will test the will of partners of today, especially in OA where IMBA casts a long shadow and has been fighting Wilderness proposals for decades, but also in OIA, which represents bicycle manufacturers and retailers.

Assuming Congress finally gets in the mood to actually do something to protect roadless lands, our elected representatives have three general options:

1. Codifying the Roadless Rule and leaving us with more or less what we have today, one-third of our national forests open to all forms of muscle-powered recreation and two-thirds devoted to motorized wreckreation. (Interesting, don’t you agree, that two-thirds is not enough for motorheads; they still want “balance.”)

2. Designating many roadless lands as Wilderness, which thanks to the Forest Service’s questionable interpretation of the Wilderness Act of 1964 back in the 1980s would ban mountain biking.

3. Opt for an alternative designation (yet to be named) allowing bicycle use, hang gliders, climbing anchors, and other current prohibitions, but otherwise providing the same protection Wilderness does. I’ve started calling this the “Wilderness Lite” option.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.