Over the last few weeks, we’ve all heard more than our fair share of horrifying news. Most of that news has featured headlines like Northern Dynasty Says It has Trump Backing For Pebble Mine, Republicans Move To Sell Off 3.3 Million Acres of National Land, and House Moves to Encourage Drilling in National Parks. Just typing those headlines made me fume.
While those news stories terrify me, the stories that scare me the most don’t contain headlines that make me want to punch public lands thieves in the face. Rather, they are editorial pieces written by leaders in our industry that I respect containing opinions I largely agree with. What disturbs me so much about these articles is that they contain a seemingly benign but deeply troubling sentiment that goes something like this:
The real tragedy is that we, as outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen, are in this spot because we have failed to adequately make a case for outdoors as a sustainable, tremendously important economic driver—at least not as well as other industries have.
No doubt the outdoor industry has failed to make a strong economic case. That’s certainly true. However, the idea that we are in this spot because we have failed to make a strong economic case is totally off base. And that perspective scares the bejesus out of me because it means that many of our industry leaders think the solution to stopping the shit storm that’s raining down on us is to make stronger, more effective economic arguments. Mark my words, if the best weapon we arm ourselves with is economics then we can kiss our public lands, clean waters, and wild fish goodbye.
There was a time in our nation’s capitol when economics ruled the day, but that time is dead and gone. In case you haven’t noticed, we now live in a world of fake news and alternative facts. Hell, politicians can’t even agree if Barack Obama or Donald Trump had more people at their inauguration. That shouldn’t be too hard to come to a consensus on. It’s certainly far more black and white (no pun intended) than the debate over whether it makes more economic sense to keep public lands in the hands of the public or to sell them off to the highest bidder.
I’m not trying to totally dismiss the economic argument. It is certainly important and a case we need to continue making to certain people at certain times. But it’s not how we got into this spot, and it’s most definitely not how we’ll get out of it.
Having worked in politics for years and gotten an up close and personal look at how the sausage is made, I can tell you that Congress runs primarily on two things: fear and obligation or as a friend of mine recently called it “spanks and thanks.” What that means is that the people with power are those who are feared and those who are needed to win elections.
This may not come as a surprise to you but in far more cases then you’d like to believe, our elected officials are more concerned about their next election than they are about economics. That’s especially true in the House of Representatives (the horrifying spawning grounds of these evil, anti-conservation ideas) because with an election every two years, those folks are constantly running for office. As a result, their north star is public opinion and political support, both in votes and campaign dollars. Put differently, fear and obligation are far more powerful forces than economics.
Nobody plays this game of fear and obligation better than the NRA, one of the most powerful political forces in Washington. When was the last time you heard the NRA make an economic argument? Probably never because they know its effectiveness pales in comparison to the power of their spanks and thanks operation, which strikes fear into the heart of any politician that dares cross them and handsomely rewards those who stand with them.
Vote against the NRA and they will make sure you have an angry mob of gun-toting constituents at your next political event. If you’re politically vulnerable and you cross them, you can bet they are going to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars into your opponent’s campaign coffers next election. But if you play by their rules and do what they want, they will make sure those gun-toting constituents are supporting you and will reward you with mountains of campaign cash.
We are a long way away from having the organization and resources needed to purchase widespread obligation, but we have everything we need to strike fear into the hearts of those who cross us. We utilized that weapon last week and witnessed its power when Congressman Jason Chaffetz killed his bill to sell 3.3 million acres of public land.
When sportsmen and conservationists across the west let Jason Chaffetz feel their wrath by unleashing holy hell on him via calls, letters, and social media, he immediately pulled a complete 180. These folks weren’t quoting economic studies about the value of these lands. They were instilling fear. And it only took a few days of that to convince Chaffetz to kill his bill and to issue this statement via Instagram:
I’m a proud gun owner, hunter and love our public lands. The bill would have disposed of small parcels of lands Pres. Clinton identified as serving no public purpose but groups I support and care about fear it sends the wrong message. The bill was originally introduced several years ago. I look forward to working with you. I hear you and HR 621 dies tomorrow.
Once you get past all of the spin and political BS in that statement, you can see that Chaffetz inadvertently showed us his vulnerability, confirmed our power, and laid out our blueprint for success all in one Instagram post. If Jason Chaffetz truly supported and cared about our causes, he would have never introduced this legislation in the first place. Nor would he have launched and supported hundreds of other attacks on our public lands and waters.
The truth is he didn’t care about our causes and groups before. But he cares about them now, at least for this bill, because we made him care. He retreated with his tail between his legs not because of economics and certainly not because of his ethics. He killed this bill because he feared the repercussions of crossing us. He experienced our wrath and realized our power, and it scared the shit out of him.
I never thought I would say this, but thank you Congressman Chaffetz. Thank you for doing the right thing and killing your bill. Thank you for exposing your vulnerability and for demonstrating our power. And thank you for showing us the best way to defeat your posse of public lands thieves and anti-conservation goons.
If we’ve learned anything from Congressman Chaffetz, it’s that it’s time we put the economic reports down, pick up a pitchfork, and light a torch. It’s time to form an angry mob and become a political force to be reckoned with. And it’s time to beat on the gates of Washington and deliver this message loud and clear – DON’T FUCK WITH US!