Ways to Advocate for Protecting Your Public Lands
All of the examples listed above are in progress and given the early days of the current administration, some of these things could actually become law. So, if these policy proposals are concerning to you, here are some ways you can respond.
1. Learn More About the Principles of Land Conservation & Pending Legislation
With social media, it is easy to keep up on legislative proposals related to protecting public land. For example, I follow many of the organizations listed below on both Facebook and Twitter. Since we have donated to some of these groups, we also receive their newsletters and legislative alerts which are helpful tools for staying informed. These groups do all of the difficult research, analysis, and policy tracking for you.
If you are just getting started in learning about these issues, the National Parks Conservation Association and the Wilderness Society are two good places to start. If you want to dive in to some issues more deeply, the Center for Western Priorities and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance both have good information briefs on their respective websites. Links for all of these organizations and their social media pages are at the end of this post.
You can also read the following blog posts and articles to become more familiar with some of the issues facing public lands today and see how a few photographers are using their voice to amplify these issues:
2. Contact Your Representatives
Your voice matters. While it is not always possible to sway the vote of your elected representative and state’s senators, hearing from many constituents can make a big difference in some cases - like yesterday's withdrawal of a proposal to sell 3.3 million acres of public lands. Many advocacy organizations, like those listed below, offer background papers and talking points to help make contacting your representatives easier. If you need help finding the contact information for your representative, you can find it here.
Advocacy guides usually say that calling has the most impact but some voters have been having a hard time getting through to congressional offices due to such heavy call volume. You should also be able to find an email address or constituent feedback form on the website for your representative or senator if that contact method is easier for you. A good old fashioned paper letter or in-person visit to your congressional office will work, as well.
My own immediate actions: I am contacting my representatives about the Stream Protection Rule (passed by the US House, pending in the US Senate), rules for energy extraction in national parks (HJ Resolution 46), and HR 622 (eliminating BLM and US Forest Service law enforcement authority). I am also emailing the BLM about the oil and gas leases near Zion National Park. These pieces of legislation are moving quickly, so if you care about these issues, ACT TODAY.
Such messages are easy to pull together. I usually follow this simple template: Remind the person if I am a constituent or why the issue is important to me if I am not. Ask the representative, senator, or federal agency to support or oppose the specific legislation or activity (like opening up land for an oil drilling lease), including the number associated with the legislation if applicable (example: HR 622). I also include one or two sentences explaining my reason. Be respectful and concise, and use issue briefs from advocacy organizations to help with talking points if necessary.
3. Donate Money or Photographs
Almost all of the advocacy organizations listed below are nonprofit organizations and depend on charitable donations to operate their programs. If you can, make a cash donation or join as a member to help these organizations advance their mission. These groups often have skilled lobbyists and communication teams that can help mobilize opposition or support for legislation and policies in a way that we as individuals cannot.
While I know some photographers will disagree with this advice, I have also reached out to some nonprofit conservation groups that I support to offer a donation of my photographs for use in social media, publications, and as silent auction items. While some larger nonprofit organizations have the budget to pay for photography, many smaller groups do not have the ability to afford top-quality photographs (I know this well since I worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 10 years). While I would never allow a for-profit corporation to use one of my photographs for free, I am happy to donate my work to help advance a nonprofit’s mission that supports my own personal goals and values.
You can also use your photography to raise funds for organizations you care about. For example, Floris van Breugel is offering a print sale to help raise donations for conservation organizations.
4. Use Your Photography to Share Your Support for Public Lands
Each time you share a photo taken on public lands, tell the story of that place. Remind your audience that such places are under a variety of pressures and need our protection and support. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of talking about politics online, this is probably the easiest way to share a message of support for public lands without engaging in direct advocacy.
5. Speak Up, Amplify Information, and Get Involved in Advocacy
Amplifying the message that public lands deserve to be protected is essential in helping create a sustainable movement and constituency to fight the kinds of proposals discussed above. You can help in these efforts by learning about the issues facing public lands and then asking those in your network to act. Share information and requests for action on social media, with your photography club, in your newsletter if you have one, and in the stories you tell about your photos. Share a blog post like this or encourage those in your network to donate to conservation organizations.
Some conservation groups are also organizing protests at state capitols to help show the size and enthusiasm of the pro-public lands constituency (here is an example of a recent rally in Montana). Other groups, like the Sierra Club, frequently circulate petitions or develop letter/email-writing campaigns to help advance their policy objectives. If you want to be involved in this kind of collective action, become members of these organizations to receive alerts about their activities.