High Time for Outdoor Recreation Industry & Non-Hunting Public Land Users to Step Up

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Opportunity #1 for the outdoor industry to step up is a self-imposed excise tax modeled after Pittman-Robertson and Dingell-Johnson. Mountain bikes, camping gear, ski equipment – tax it all at the same Pittman-Robertson mandated 11% and redistribute to the states in a similar manner.  Imagine the conservation resources this would create.

Opportunity #2 is for outdoor industry businesses to engage on the issue of public lands transfer. Outdoor industry businesses have been conspicuously absent from the public land transfer conversation and have done very little to apply meaningful pressure to state and national politicians to walk back pro-land transfer rhetoric or proposed transfer legislation.

State based conservation is funded almost entirely by hunters and anglers, and we are the only group paying excise tax on equipment.  Those are facts. Pittman-Robertson is a self-imposed excise tax on firearms, ammunition and archery equipment. The funds are collected federally and redistributed to the states based on a hunter participation driven formula. Dingell-Johnson is the fishing equivalent. I realize that today not all Pittman-Robertson funds are generated by hunters, but back in 1937, in the shadow of the great depression, hunters had the foresight and backbone to step up and bring the legislation to fruition. Hunters and anglers buy licenses and bird stamps as well and have traditionally funded roughly 90% of state fish and wildlife agency budgets through their license spending.  We all pay federal taxes and pennies on the dollar are used to fund federal agency efforts, but what I’m talking about here is incremental, use specific taxation and for-profit industry contribution. This kind of self-imposed taxation does not exist for any other outdoor recreational categories.

Many “non-consumptive” users – mountain bikers, hikers, bird watchers, et al. – marginalize and dismiss us as beer guzzling, billhillies.  They enjoy the fruits of our labor while looking down their noses at us. In fairness, many non-hunting, not-for-profit organizations are doing great habitat work, and a few of them have been meaningfully active on public lands transfer issues. Likewise, many non-hunting users of public land contribute significant time and money to these organizations. But the current effort being put forth isn’t going to cut it.  As a community of hunters and anglers, we’ve also not done enough to educate the general public, and that’s on us.

Last fall, while gearing up at the trailhead for a multi-day bomb back into the Colorado backcountry to chase elk, I was confronted by a father and his young son. The son says bluntly, “You can’t hunt here”. The father, to my surprise, conferred. Politely, but plainly, I explained to them that hunters and anglers fund a majority of conservation work, including the trail maintenance and habitat efforts in the area we were all preparing to access. I told them that they should thank hunters and fisherman for helping underwrite their public land recreation. I went on loading my pack. The father questioned my logic. I pressed a bit further by asking him how much his family hike into the wilderness was costing him?  I also asked him if he donated time or money to conservation. Gas and food was his investment.  I think my point soaked in when I rattled off the costs, and benefits to the local economy and conservation efforts, of my trip, and elaborated a bit on the amount of time and money I dedicate to conservation outside of my annual gun, ammo and gear purchases.

This is one frustrating interaction, but also a microcosm of the larger problem we face with our “non-consumptive” brethren.

During the previous month three bills were introduced in the House. A succinct breakdown of the proposed legislation can be found here: Bundy Copycat Bills.   Several similar bills have been proposed during recent state legislative sessions throughout the country and I urge you to research what is going on in your state.  A number of presidential candidates have made land transfer part of their official platform.  The Malheur Refuge occupation was well covered and doesn’t bear another dredging here. Please see previous blog posts for detailed overviews of the land grab movement and the Oregon occupation.  The gist is that the land grab movement is a well-funded, organized effort to fleece the American public of our public lands, and one not to be taken lightly. And, it’s not going away.

Hunting and fishing non-profits, like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, have stepped up their game and are confronting the land grab movement head on. Hunting and fishing industry companies have stepped up as well, both through corporate partnership spending with non-profits engaging on public lands issues, and in-house programs.  First Lite, premium hunting clothing and gear manufacturer, is one company taking the bull by the horns.  Their Round up for Conservation program is raising thousands of dollars for conservation work by allowing customers to round up their purchase and choose a recipient organization. First Lite has been recognized for their efforts with the 2016 ‘Open Country’ award by Outdoor Life Magazine and the 2015 ‘Larry Fischer Award’ by Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. Prominent voices in the hunting community are providing needed leadership as well, with guys like Steve Rinella and Randy Newberg out in front.  Their shows, podcasts, forums, and willingness to call a spade a spade, have helped bring the land grab movement to the front of hunters’ collective consciousness.  Meanwhile, for-profit outdoor recreation companies, with their considerable clout as job producing, tax paying members of communities, stand in large part idle on the sidelines. Likewise with their industry alliances and visible spokespeople.  This is unacceptable. Groups like Outdoor Alliance have engaged on public lands transfer issues but it’s time for the outdoor recreation industry as a whole to double down.

This year the Outdoor Retailer, title sponsored in the past by the Outdoor Industry Association, will again host their major events in Salt Lake City, UT, the epicenter of the land grab movement. Right now in Utah, there are no less than five active pro-transfer bills in various stages of the legislative process. The American’s Land Council calls Utah home. A few weeks back the Utah Supreme Court closed public access to 2,700 miles of rivers and streams. Yet OR and their sponsors choose to stay in Utah, sending a clear message, and through their indifference, enabling pro-transfer politicians.

It’s high time for the outdoor recreation industry and non-hunting public land users to step up.

Pay your own way. The moniker “non-consumptive user” is inaccurate. Bikers, hikers, boaters – their land and water uses require significant public investment and state game and fish resources. They also derive enjoyment and benefit from their public lands and it’s time for them to volunteer to pay a self-imposed excise tax.  Hire some lawyers, draw up legislation and get it done.

Put on some gloves and get in the ring with us on public lands. Your businesses and lifestyles require public ownership of public lands to be generationally sustainable. No land = no one buying equipment.  A few social media posts aren’t going to cut it.  This is your fight, too.



16 thoughts on “High Time for Outdoor Recreation Industry & Non-Hunting Public Land Users to Step Up

  1. You have to team up with the western ranchers who are losing grazing lands and having cattle killed. Trump is the only candidate who is talking about giving back states rights…we need to get him on board with this and support him.


    • That’s not what’s happening to ranchers out west, and law abiding hunters, anglers and ranchers have nothing in common with the extremist groups garnering media attention recently. You haven’t seen a single ranching organization stand with the Bundy’s and their militant ilk. Public land ranchers pay sweetheart lease rates – a fraction of what they’d pay to graze on private land. Yet, the Bundy led group that organized the recent occupation wanted to graze for free. The extremist groups you’ve seen in the media lately are self interest driven businessmen, who are essentially saying to the rest of us, that their for-profit use of the land (grazing) is more important than other uses (hunting, fishing, hiking, etc.). Trump, to my knowledge, has come out in defense of public lands staying in public hands, not in favor of state transfer. Also, we would not be “giving back” anything to the states. You can’t give back something they never owned. When states were granted statehood they were given parcels of land (state trust land). The rest is held in public trust, managed by federal agencies, for multiple use benefit.


      • The Equal footing doctrine, also known equality of the states, is the principle in United States constitutional law that all states admitted to the Union under the Constitution since 1789 enter on equal footing with the 13 states already in the Union at that time. The Constitution grants to Congress the power to establish new states in Article IV, Section 3, Clause 1, which states:

        New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.[1]

        Beginning with the admission of Tennessee in 1796, Congress has included in each state’s act of admission a clause providing that it enters the Union “on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatever”.[1]
        Also Article I, section 8, clause 17 says Federal government can PURCHASE state land with the approval of the state’s legislature for forts, arsenals, magazines, dock-yards and other needful buildings. It did not say it could control lands for hunters and bird watchers.


  2. Well put. Too often I converse with non consumptive users who are ignorant of what is going with regard to our public lands. They blindly beleive that what is here now will always be the status quo.


  3. First of all, I agree with a lot of this. It frustrates me to no end that the hook and bullet community gets so much negativity from the broader outdoor recreation community. We’re all here with one strong connective concept: a love of the outdoors. But y’all are the ones who really put your money where your mouth is, and then you have communities like climbers (my outdoor activity of choice) who get in a huff if we have to pay $10 for day-use at a crag. The freedom of the outdoors isn’t really free, and it’s time for us all to dig deep into our pockets and support the places we play.

    However, I have some pretty strong thoughts on what you got into about OIA. I’m actually the social media lead at OIA, and my face turned beet red when I read the line “Cursory views of their website and various social media platforms turn up next to nothing on public lands transfer issues. How can that possibly be?” Fighting the public lands heist is something we feel very passionately about. I have a “Keep your hands off my public lands” sticker on the water bottle I’m currently drinking out of for goodness sake.

    Here are some links:
    https://twitter.com/OIA/status/685215383532498944 (read the link to that op-ed, which was co-written by our executive director)
    – We are a key supporter of the Our Public Lands initative: http://www.protectourpublicland.org/
    – We hosted a public lands heist roundtable at Summer OR with Outdoor Alliance: https://outdoorindustry.org/article/outdoor-industry-association-outdoor-alliance-and-the-conservation-alliance-host-public-lands-heist-roundtable/#oia-press-room,outdoor-retailer,policy
    – More info: https://outdoorindustry.org/article/are-your-public-lands-being-stolen-behind-your-back/#articles,events

    There are also multiple posts lined up in our social media queue about the lands heist. (We have to cover everything from sustainable supply chains and trade alerts to LWCF and our members, so I’ll admit that I don’t post about the land heist every day.) To be fair, this post has opened my eyes to the fact that I haven’t been as tuned in as usual in the last few weeks. So thank you for the reminder.

    Also, for the record, OR show isn’t our show. It’s run by Outdoor Retailer, a separate organization. Very common misconception, but important distinction. If I had a dollar for every time someone confused the two separate organizations, I’d be able to pull a Terry Tempest-Williams and scoop up a whole lotta land from one of those leasing auctions!

    Phew, what a mouthful. Hopefully my very strong passion for what I do and for what OIA stands for is apparent. 🙂 I love this quote from your post, “Put on some gloves and get in the ring with us on public lands. Your businesses and lifestyles require public ownership of public lands to be generationally sustainable. This is your fight, too.” Overall, I agree with you: it’s time for the entire outdoor community to come together and ALL start taking stronger, more tangible action in protecting our public lands.


    • Katie, thanks so much for your impassioned reply. I agree with you that it is definitely time for all of us to do more “putting our money where our mouth is” on the land transfer issue in particular. I sat in on the public lands roundtable in August and was heartened that it was a topic but disheartened by the lack of action coming out of it. I do understand the distinction that OR is a separate entity and that OIA is title sponsor and I apologize for that oversight and made the edits. My objective isn’t to point fingers but rather to call the outdoor industry and their collective clout into the ring with us. Education and awareness are one component, and I think both consumptive and non-consumptive non-profits are doing great work there, but making politicians stand up and take notice requires action from the for-profit side. Pulling OR of UT would be a great first step. Aligning on excise tax legislation modeled after PR would be a huge boon to our collective capability to control the future of conservation. Please send me an email at admin@hunterconservationist.com. I’d really like to talk with you more live. Thanks again.


  4. I really like what you wrote here, but you need to put a name on this site and effort. The generic “Admin” label and the about page tell us nothing about who you are, or how to further support your efforts. -Matt Stansberry


  5. I think you are right on. I’m one of those mountain biker / bird watchers and I’m not a hunter but I’m thankful for the conservation work your hunting dollars bring in and i would be happy to pay a similar tax for the well being of our natural areas. i wish more people understood this issue in our modern world. In Kenya where i live and run walking safaris with camels they banned hunting. guess what ? the wildlife has suffered unprecedented declines since then. The country with the most lions in africa is tanzania. know why? Because the hunting blocks there provide the animals with a place to live. To say nothing of the birds, toads, trees and everything else that gets to live on that land.
    I for one am a rec user / conservation biologist that is thankful.
    James Christian
    Karisia Walking Safaris
    Laikipia, Kenya


  6. It’s a great idea, and it’s been tried. Unfortunately (and typically) the hunting industry, many hunting organizations and many hunters rallied against it — paranoid and afraid of allowing others to have a stake and a say in managing the wildlife and wild places that belong to all of us, hunters and nonhunters, to benefit the health and viability of functioning ecosystems and all wildlife — not just hunted species.

    We hunters raise money to fund state fish and game departments overseen by politically appointed commissions (made of mostly of ranchers and hunters) who too often pressure agencies to lead us away from wildlife management to something more resembling animal husbandry, with a focus on producing more elk and deer for hunters to shoot. The good news is that many hunters rally around efforts to protect what little remains of our wild places, which benefits all species—including non-hunted species and fellow predators such as mountain lions, grizzlies, and wolves. But it seems a lot more hunters want roads and ATV trails punched into our wilds; want wolves killed off because they think they’re killing all “their” deer and elk; fight against efforts to protect the wild places that sustain the wildlife we hunt; and deny the human-caused changes in climate that melts glaciers and exposes ancient hunters. Most modern-day hunters are as detached from nature as the rest of society, and so we naively, ignorantly, and sometimes maliciously kill what sustains us.

    A lot of hunters like to brag how “we pay for conservation” but then complain when other stakeholders of our public lands and wildlife also want a say in how things are managed.


    • Dave, all great point and thoughts. Same page. I think the difference in the past is that it’s been largely a state agency led initiative in the past. What I’m suggesting is that this has to be recreation industry’s idea. They have to lead it for it to work. If they take the lead hunters won’t be able to hide with our ball in the corner and refuse to let them to play. The OR industry is too big. On the points of ATV trails, habitat fragmentation and degradation, etc. that is largely being driven within our own ranks and it’s frustrating. As a society we’ve certainly become lazier and the lazy, easier, quicker, cultural shift has certainly seeped into hunting.
      I think the macro, long-term issue here is that if we don’t bring more public land users into the fray, hunters and anglers won’t be able to fight the land transfer battle or fund conservation efforts long-term. Looking beyond just excise tax to federal funding through other means. If we don’t have a loud voice those $’s going to conservation now will go elsewhere as well.


  7. I agree that more could be done from outdoor industry to make their voices heard, but to call outdoor companies totally silent on conservation issues I think simplifies things a bit. Patagonia, Black Diamond, and Outdoor Research just to name a few are heavily involved with advocacy efforts.


    • Drew, the piece doesn’t say that they are silent on conservation issues. It’s saying that they’ve been largely silent, beyond a few for-profit companies putting their logo on a website perhaps, on public lands transfer. Many for-profit businesses have done outstanding conservation work.


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