A couple of weeks ago staff from Environment America’s many state affiliates across the country were packing their bags for a March 9 trip to Washington, DC. Each of them was gearing up for a big push to fully fund our public lands. It seemed as if our timing couldn’t have been better because at the same moment, the Senate was unveiling and fast-tracking The Great American Outdoors Act, which combined full, permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund with more than $9 billion to address deferred maintenance problems at our national parks and other public lands.
Of course, it turned out the timing couldn’t have been worse. With the dangers caused by the novel coronavirus, we cancelled flights and lodging and were forced to come up with a Plan B.
We decided to go ahead with the lobby day, but with a new approach. Instead of face-to-face meetings we primarily pivoted to phone calls. Staff on the hill, who were also appropriately concerned about the virus, were more than happy to accomodate.
Environment Georgia Director Jennette Gayer and Environment Nevada Director Levi Kamolnick hold meetings with their states’ congressional offices in DC.
State directors from North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland were still able to drive in and hold their in-person meetings with key staffers. For those meetings, in a town of many handshakes, it was all nods, waves and elbow bumps.
Despite the challenges, we held meetings with more than 60 key congressional offices and let them know how important it is to the people of their state that we preserve and enable access to our wild outdoor places. The meetings -- whether in person or on the phone -- went off without a hitch, and we accomplished what we set out to: make the case that investing in public lands should be a priority for Congress.
Environment New jersey Director Doug O’Malley and Environment Texas Associate Anna Ferrell-Sherman both safely called in to their meetings.
Though Congress is rightly prioritizing COVID-19 responses, the Great American Outdoors Act, now has 59 cosponsors in the Senate and is closer to the finish line. Meanwhile, similar bills in the House also have majority support.
At this time of social distancing, we’ll keep using all the appropriate tools in our toolbox to fully, permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Ultimately, we look forward to Congress taking bipartisan action so that all Americans can continue to benefit from America’s public lands.