Saturday, Oct. 1, 2016 | 2 a.m.
The power of the grassroots is amazing. History has shown that conservation works best when there is a committed local constituency working to protect and restore public land. Recently, Native American communities in North Dakota showed us the power of a grassroots movement over the seemingly biggest obstacles. Many important decisions about the protection and use of our public lands are made at the national level, but the influence of grassroots, community advocates plays a critical role in helping land managers make informed decisions in managing our public lands.
The Conservation Lands Foundation’s Friends Rendezvous, occurring this weekend, brings together more than 300 of these grassroots leaders, representing a network of more than 60 nonprofit organizations from around the country. Called the Friends Grassroots Network, they are stewards, advocates and outdoor enthusiasts as well as business, community, elected and tribal leaders from across the United States, including about 60 from Nevada.
Our shared mission is to expand, protect and restore the shared national treasures that are our National Conservation Lands — the BLM’s collection of more than 35 million acres of protected public lands, rivers and trails including, locally, Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. To do that effectively, we need to work harder at increasing and diversifying the ranks of people who explore and enjoy the outdoors. Having represented a congressional district in Nevada that has more public lands than almost any other district in the country and is one of the most diverse, I know the importance of getting every part of our community involved in these critical issues. The Friends gathering in Southern Nevada this weekend, including military veterans and indigenous, Hispanic, and faith-based groups, is a step in the right direction.
Together, we will chart a course for our National Conservation Lands and celebrate the extraordinary progress made to protect these lands as they join the ranks of our national parks and wildlife refuges, including places such as Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument, which I worked to protect in 2014. In the past year alone, the Friends Grassroots Network built 212 miles of trails, mobilized 3,000 volunteers in stewardship projects, activated more than 150,000 people through social media and successfully urged President Barack Obama to designate four national monuments protecting nearly 3 million acres of treasured public lands. This includes groups such as the Friends of Red Rock Canyon and Friends of Sloan Canyon, who volunteered countless hours doing trail work, installing signage, and removing trash, graffiti and invasive species. It also includes groups such as the Friends of Gold Butte and Friends of Basin and Range, which advocated for the protection of Basin and Range National Monument, designated last July by Obama. The nearby Gold Butte region still urgently needs protection, and I support local efforts urging the president to designate it as a national monument.
After honoring the monumental achievements of the past four years, the group will participate in a stewardship project to maintain trails, install signs and clean up litter at Red Rock Canyon. I am extremely appreciative that these friends of our public lands will leave our community even better than they found it, and proud that Southern Nevada is hosting this conversation about public lands issues.
We all must continue to advocate for the preservation of these lands. No matter who you are or where you live, we all have a stake in preserving our shared American heritage, our treasured outdoors. I encourage you to join the movement and learn more by joining a Friends group near you or by visiting conservationlands.org.
Steven Horsford is a director of the Conservation Lands Foundation and as a congressman served on the House Natural Resources Committee and its subcommittees on public lands, and energy and the environment.