Hiking, Nature and Outdoor Recreation is Political. Period.

Unless you have been in the backcountry for a few months, or just actually live under a rock, you are aware that everywhere you go, there is talk about politics. In the grocery stores, in the papers, at work, at home and all over social media; it seems like political speech is around every corner. For many, the retreat into nature is to avoid this type of talk, letting yourself reconnect and be calm in the majesty of wilderness and the great outdoors. While I believe everyone should find a patch of wilderness to relax and meditate at, the time for naivety of politics not playing an important role in nature is over. We recently wrote an article about how the Trump Administration is starting to attack our Public Lands and restricted speech by National Park Service employees. This is a fact. The new administration’s wording pretty much lays it out for us on the White House’s Energy webpage. You may not agree with the word ‘attack,’ but that is what it appears to be to those of us who have been on the environmental front lines for the past decade. While many were outraged and shared our post with others, we were met with numerous people who told us to “stick to nature” and that we needed to be less political. For The Outdoor Society, that is impossible.

Everything we do in nature is dependent on the Federal Government in one way, shape or form. To not think this is to be willfully ignorant of the workings of our country. While we may not think about the political systems that helped protect, create access and maintain the regions we are exploring, the truth is that every inch of our Public Lands has been impacted by politics. With each step we take on a hike, every road we drive to get there and every sign we read, we are using the fruits of politics in nature. While I wish we could be simple and we could maintain our Public Lands with the bare minimum of oversight and finances, that is not a reality and needs to be immediately removed from your brain.

Do you love National Parks? They are funded and run by the Federal Government. Nearly every domestic decision that the US Government makes impacts the Department of the Interior and our National Parks. They were created by the government as an act of Congress and funding comes from tax payer dollars. The head of the Department of the Interior, who is nominated by and reports to the President, is voted on by Congress. Right now, there is a hiring freeze by the Trump Administration on all Federal Government jobs. This hiring freeze directly impacts the National Park Service, as they typically start interviewing and hiring for seasonal employees around this time of the year. There is a chance that the freeze will continue into the summer, leading to understaffed parks that are becoming more crowded each year. Unless you like wild crowds in parks or a lack of funding for basic things like trash removal, clean toilets and staffed visitor centers, you should probably be politically involved enough to help out your favorite National Park. Understaffed parks will lead to less enthusiasm for Public Lands, which in turn will lead to less funding and less people caring about them in the future.

Do you love Forest Service Lands? They are run by the Department of Agriculture who, guess what, is fully funded by the US Government. Every trail, road and district is controlled through political action of some form. The hiring freeze linked above also directly impacts the National Forest Service, possibly leading to issues with maintenance, access and even some forms of safety, as less staff will be patrolling the region for any number of job duties. This is by no means all that a hiring freeze would impact; but for sake of brevity, I will leave it at that.

Now I know this may come off as a bit one-sided, but I am tired of the excuses. Yes, we all love the pretty pictures and inspiring stories of fellow hikers, trail runners and outdoor recreation enthusiasts.  However, the only reason we have these lands to explore and soothe our souls is because of the political process. For good or ill, nature is tied to politics and we can’t afford to turn a blind eye. Our love of nature is not ours alone. Outdoor recreation is one of the largest economic sectors in the United States, generating over $600 billion in consumer spending and creating over six million jobs directly related to it. By saying that this group shouldn’t be involved in politics is ridiculous.

I know that these facts are not convenient for many of us. When we think about nature, we want to be filled with joy, adventure and a sense of carefree wonder. It is what makes wilderness so appealing to the masses and our weekend destinations. It is where we bond as a family, create lifelong friends and reconnect with something inside of us that is long-since lost. If the area is important to you at all, you should be willing to fight to save it. The great outdoors is political, and the only way to enjoy it today, tomorrow and in the future is to understand that politics in nature does matter. Politics is part of the discussion and by refusing to accept that fact, you are helping condone the slow and painful demise of our Public Lands.

 

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By Doug and Mathias on the Olympic Peninsula, Washington State

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