A couple weeks back, while Boise was still dreary and cold, I had the privilege of traveling to Washington DC. I’ve been before – meeting with other conservation advocates, lobbying for our public lands or wildlife, and connecting with public land managers usually makes up the agenda. This trip was different, though.
Advocacy work in our nation’s capital isn’t the same as in the Idaho Statehouse, but the excitement and energy is always there just the same. This trip, I was part of a fly-in, an event that usually lasts a few days and consists of meetings with elected officials and cabinet members and their staff, networking between professionals, and a bit of touristing around if you’re lucky.
My first fly-in was back in 2018. I went with a few dozen others from around the country to try to secure permanent funding for the Land & Water Conservation Fund. That trip was a motley mix of ranchers, professional conservation advocates, and constituents with an interest in public land. At the time, I fell into the last category, attending as a representative of a very small nonprofit from a state with a very small population.
The trip was empowering — for the most part my congressmen listened to my story and heard my ask to permanently fund LWCF. I talked with agency staff about the need to fund conservation and outdoor recreation projects and learned a ton about public land. A few short years later, in 2020, the Great American Outdoors Act was passed, achieving a goal conservation advocates had pursued since 1965. It was a big win.
My trip a couple weeks ago was different. The agenda was similar with lots of meetings and rushing between congressional buildings, but the faces in the room were different. The goals were different. A new coalition called America the Beautiful for All organized this fly-in. They brought together a diverse group of individuals hailing from Maine to the Mariana Islands, Texas to the Canadian border, and everywhere in between.
This group of conservation professionals looked like America – we were a diverse array of people from different races, backgrounds, ages. Achieving ATB4ALL’s twin goals of advancing both the Justice40 and 30×30 initiatives will take diversity, it will take a broad range of Americans passionate about conservation. All of our voices will be necessary to meet these goals, and unlike the typical forecast coming out of DC, it’s absolutely achievable.
This spark of optimism was ignited by something special. I saw change. Conservationists are passionate, outdoorsy folks. We’re connected to the land and the water, and we’re willing to show up and speak up for public lands, wildlife, and our way of life. We’re also usually white.
The change I saw was the essential addition of new faces and new perspectives to the conversation. Communities that have been left out, whose input has been pushed aside, were well represented. With a diversity of voices comes a broader range of support. That meeting room full of people in Washington DC – Indigenous, Black, LBGQT, Latino, White, Boomers to Gen Z, Asian American – was a powerful force for conservation.
We’re working together to advance America the Beautiful for All, and together, we can win.