Advocacy in the Time of Distancing
Eight ways you can safely protect our public lands
As we reorient ourselves to a world turned, at least temporarily, upside down, having the opportunity to seek solace in our wild and public lands has become exponentially more essential — for our physical health, our mental well-being, and our togetherness as a community. Even if we may not be able to visit the places we love most right now, they can still offer us solace and hope, through the memories we have of them and the anticipation of experiences to come.
Sadly, while local and national attention focuses elsewhere, the threats to our public lands continue. The Interior Department under Secretary David Bernhardt is moving full-steam ahead to allow more drilling for oil and natural gas on public lands. He is also continuing his push to sell out 95% of public lands in central Montana to his former clients and bosses in the oil and gas industry.
That’s why we need to remain vigilant and active in protecting our wild places and public lands while at home.
MWA will always be there to lift the voices of our members and speak out on behalf of the wildlands that make Montana so special. To help you stay connected to the conservation movement and remain a champion of our wild places and public lands, we’ve put together this list of quarantine-friendly things you can do.
1. Join an online campaign
We have numerous petitions, contact-your-legislator campaigns, and comment-writing opportunities available on our action center. Participating in any and all campaigns that catch your eye is a quick and effective way to speak up for our wild public lands without having to leave the house.
2. Write a letter to the editor
It’s important to keep public lands issues in the public eye, and writing a letter to the editor of your local paper is an easy way to do that. Right now, we need letters supporting the Blackfoot Clearwater Stewardship Act, calling on the Bureau of Land Management to restore real multiple use in central Montana, and asking the Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest to keep the Great Burn free of motorized use. Read this short guide to writing a good letter to the editor, or contact me at email@example.com if you’d like some guidance. Most newspapers have a web page that allows you to easily submit a letter to the editor. Look for the “opinion” tab on the homepage and then for a button that says “submit a letter to the editor.”
3. Stay informed
Sign up for our email list or follow us on social media to stay connected and in the know about public land issues. We’ll let you know whenever there’s a major development or a chance to take action. We also share lots of great photos, hiking tips, and other resources.
4. Educate yourself
Take this time to read about a Montana public lands issue that interests you or that you’ve always wanted to know more about. If you’re looking for a good starting place, browse our blog Wild Word or check out this list of books recommended by MWA staff members (here’s a list of books for the kiddos, too).
You can also get ready for Montana's upcoming legislative sessions (it starts in January 2021) by watching our webinar "How to be a Citizen Advocate."
5. Host a virtual gathering
Try getting wilderness advocates into the same room — sort of — by organizing a videoconference to talk about a public lands issue you care about. Make it a weekly event and allow a different participant to set the agenda each week. You can talk about ecology, policy, how to stay engaged, or even your favorite hikes. Encourage everyone to invite a friend to keep your wilderness community growing. Some virtual meeting services like Zoom are offering free signups.
Bonus tip: combine this with #5 and host a virtual public-lands book club!
6. Register to vote
By committing to vote, you’re staking out your territory as a public lands advocate. Voting is the best way to hold elected officials accountable — officials know that if they want to stay in office, they have to be responsive to powerful voting blocs, so we need to show them that conservationists are a powerful voting bloc. If we want our elected officials to protect public lands from development, designate new Wilderness, or simply keep our public lands in public ownership, we need to vote!
Visit Montana’s voter registration page to check your registration status, fill out the voter registration application, and more.
7. Take care of your local public lands
There’s a multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog facing our public land trails, so advocacy can be as easy as being good stewards of the lands we love and use. Packing out all of your trash, taking care not to negatively impact muddy trails, and simply being considerate of other trail users can all go a long way toward protecting our public land infrastructure so that future generations can enjoy it, too. Remember, please stay at least 6 feet away from others and avoid busy trails and trailheads.
For more great ideas about treading lightly on public lands, read our blog “7 Ways to Minimize Your Impact in the Great Outdoors.”
8. Make a donation
By supporting our work, you’ll help ensure that we’ll always be there to lead the movement to protect Montana’s wild public lands. We only exist because of the tireless support of our members, and every contribution — now more than ever — helps us hold elected officials accountable, work with land management agencies, and mobilize our grassroots network of folks like you to defend the wild places that we love.
Alex supports MWA's communications strategy, campaigns, and programs across the state. You can find him exploring Montana's best skiing, biking, climbing, and backpacking.