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Conservationists Aim to Make Public Lands a 2020 Ballot-Box Issue

Whitewater kayaking is one of dozens of activities outdoor enthusiasts participate in on public lands in states in the Mountain West. (VAIR PRO/Adobe Stock)
Whitewater kayaking is one of dozens of activities outdoor enthusiasts participate in on public lands in states in the Mountain West. (VAIR PRO/Adobe Stock)
August 20, 2020

PHOENIX -- Conservationists say as the Trump administration continues its assault on public lands, they are looking to rally members of what is called the "outdoors voting bloc" to the polls in November.

Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Denver-based Center for Western Priorities, said the group is running TV ads between now and Election Day to remind candidates that protecting public lands is important to outdoor enthusiasts, and that they vote.

The ads do not mince words: "... Many issues divide us... but public lands unite us. In the West, we are a growing force."

Since he was elected, President Donald Trump has appointed public officials who are openly hostile to national parks and monuments.

Weiss said the campaign is aimed at politicians from states such as Arizona to remind them more than two million Westerners see the outdoors as a way of life in the region.

"These ads that we are running in D.C., as well as across the West, are really designed to draw the attention of candidates, of campaign managers, [to] make sure that they're aware that if you want to win the West, you have to win that outdoor voting bloc," Weiss said.

He added in a recent poll, his group found 81% of Western voters consider public lands, parks, and wildlife issues important in deciding who to vote for in presidential and congressional elections.

"What voters have seen Congress do, that's table stakes, that's the very bottom-basement level of what voters expect candidates to do when it comes to public lands," Weiss said.

This is the third election cycle in which the group has run conservation-oriented issue ads, but Weiss said this year, the stakes are higher than ever.

"There is overwhelming bipartisan support for protecting 30% of American lands and waters by the end of the decade. That's the 30x30 Initiative."

The ads begin running this week on cable news stations and other media in Washington D.C. and six Western states. Video links to the ads are at WesternPriorities.org.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - AZ