REI President and CEO Eric Artz hosted a virtual fireside chat last Thursday with Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), two legislators who have supported outdoor recreation and public lands policy.
Artz began by acknowledging how fortunate it was for the co-op “to be joined by two champions for the outdoors … [who] are on the front lines of lawmaking [and who] regularly go to bat for the public spaces that serve as the perfect venue for recreation, for improving our health and well-being—and especially in times like these, even for healing.”
During the conversation, Artz discussed with the senators why outdoor recreation has remained one of the few bipartisan policy issues in Congress and how to translate this unity toward other topics like climate change and environmental justice.
Sen. Heinrich pointed to the outdoor recreation economy, which accounted for 2.5 percent of GDP in his home state of New Mexico and 2.2 percent nationwide in 2017, and its impact on bipartisanship.
“Having people working in outdoor recreation in our communities, in rural communities in Colorado and rural communities like Taos and Silver City in New Mexico, has really changed that conversation [about public lands] and brought people together from both sides of the aisle to support what we know is important for everyone,” he said.
The discussion comes on the heels of the Senate’s bipartisan passage of the Great American Outdoors Act last week by a vote of 73-25. The landmark bill would provide $900 million annually for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) and up to $9.5 billion to reduce the maintenance backlog on federal public lands. Over the coming decade, the total funding will approach $20 billion. Senators Heinrich and Gardner were instrumental in ensuring this legislation passed with support from both parties.
“Public lands issues are not Republican or Democrat; they’re American issues. When you deal with an issue that affects every single one of our communities, whether it’s an eastern state that has a forest or a community park issue or a western state that has a national park issue, we are all in it together,” Sen. Gardner said. “That’s what these public lands bills have given us the opportunity to prove.”
REI will continue to encourage public policy that supports the goal of sustaining and increasing recreational opportunities and ensures everyone can benefit from time spent outdoors.
Although this was the first such discussion, REI plans to host future bipartisan fireside chats with lawmakers. The co-op hopes these conversations can remind us that as a country, we can still find policies that bring people together.