In my life, playing outside and protecting the environment go hand in hand. My experiences in the outdoors serve as my biggest inspiration for protecting the environment. In turn, my environmental advocacy constantly inspires me to continue getting outside.
The outdoor recreation industry is frequently seen as a natural partner for environmental conservation and advocacy groups, due in part to the significant overlap of people who like to recreate outside and those who care about the environment. This assumption has been challenged by those who note that outdoor recreation is actually an $887 billion industry with goals that are not always aligned with those of the conservation community. If you want to delve into this discussion, check out these recently published articles: “Your Stoke Won’t Save Us” and “Stoke Is Exactly What Outdoor Conservation Needs.”
My colleague Austin and I just attended the Scout Mountain Ultras, the second year in which ICL had a presence at this event. We wanted to share our experience at the race, focusing on how it successfully connected the world of outdoor recreation with that of environmental advocacy.
Advocacy in Action
The Scout Mountain Ultras are a collection of long-distance trail races set in the mountains near Pocatello every June. The races are the brainchild of Patagonia trail running ambassador Luke Nelson, a Pocatello local. Luke is notable within the trail running community, not just for his running but also for his environmental activism on public lands issues. In addition, he is also part of ICL’s Emerging Leaders for Idaho’s Environment (ELIE) program.
The first step to leveraging outdoor recreation as a platform for environmental advocacy is to have the right people in the room. In the case of Scout Mountain, there was a race director who cares deeply about public lands (Luke Nelson), local environmental groups who work on public lands issues (ICL, Greater Yellowstone Coalition), and a cadre of trail runners from across the country who already appreciate public lands.
We set up a table at the race pavilion, which allowed us to talk with 50+ people about ICL and the work that we do. We then gave each runner a ticket for the race’s gear raffle once the runner had "taken action," a clever way for Luke to encourage race participants to get involved.
Wild and Scenic Rivers
At our table, we encouraged folks to write postcards to the Salmon-Challis National Forest (SCNF) expressing why they care about wild and scenic rivers. This year is the 50th anniversary of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, created to protect rivers that possess "outstandingly remarkable scenic, recreational, geologic, fish and wildlife, historic, cultural or other similar values … in free-flowing condition."
The SCNF is revising its forest plan, which sets overall management direction of the national forest for the next 20 years. As part of this process, the SCNF is evaluating which river segments are eligible for future congressional protection as wild and scenic. Being listed as "eligible" is the essential first step for a river segment to be protected in this manner.
In total, 39 people took action by writing postcards to express why they personally value wild and scenic rivers. Participants came from nine states/provinces and voiced diverse reasons why river protection is important to them.
We will deliver these postcards to the forest plan revision team leader so that they can be considered in the revision process. Dani Mazzotta, ICL’s Central Idaho director, will continue to engage with the SCNF throughout this process.
Thanks to everyone who came by our table at Scout Mountain and took action to protect our amazing Idaho rivers! And a special thanks to Luke Nelson for channeling the “stoke” of outdoor recreation toward environmental advocacy. Although recreation and environmental advocacy aren’t always perfectly aligned, this event demonstrated how powerful that partnership can be when thoughtfully developed and executed.