Why We Lobby: Park Advocates Take to the Hill
By Barry Cox
Lobbying has a bad reputation, but the truth is, the right of American citizens to petition their elected representatives with their ideas, needs, and demands is as old as the Republic itself. While some unscrupulous practitioners have given the term lobbying a bad name, lobbying is as wholesome and American as apple pie. In a representative democracy, elected officials have a duty to know what their constituents are thinking about important issues and to consider those views when the time comes to take action regarding them—and an informed and engaged electorate can, and should, hold elected leaders accountable at the ballot box.
It is critically important for Americans who support and appreciate the national parks to let the men and women they elect hear from them, both at home in their districts or states and in Washington. Politicians hear from paid Washington lobbyists all the time, but when voters from home invest the time to talk about an issue, it really means something.
NPCA lobbies Congress on a regular basis, tracking legislation that would affect air and water quality, historic preservation efforts, mining and resource extraction, Park Service funding, and other sensitive issues that directly affect the health of national parks around the country. Staff members and allies frequently visit Capitol Hill to explain how bills will help or harm our park system.
NPCA also organizes special events to encourage our volunteers to meet with their representatives on national park issues, including an annual Lobby Day with members of NPCA’s board of trustees and national council. Lobby Day has been a tradition at NPCA since the early 1990s; people who are passionate about national parks are the most effective advocates for national parks. Earlier this month, 45 NPCA staff members and volunteers devoted a full day to pressing their elected representatives to authorize adequate funding for the National Park Service. Citizen lobbyists also spoke up on behalf of various pieces of legislation that would establish future national parks, as well as regional initiatives impacting parks in various areas of the country.
NPCA Deputy Vice President for Government Affairs Laura Loomis is quick to point out that, “Although Lobby Day is a once-a-year event, it gives a huge boost to our year-round advocacy on behalf of national parks. When someone lives near and obviously loves a particular park under discussion, they can convince a politician better than anyone else.”
“During one of our Lobby Days a few years ago,” Loomis recalls, “there was a congressman who was opposed to limiting snowmobiles in Yellowstone. Maybe he hadn’t thought much about it or didn’t fully understand the negative impacts snowmobiles had on the park. Either way, we couldn’t get him to budge until one of our volunteers from Wyoming spoke from the heart about preserving the peace and quiet of Yellowstone.”
This year, Lobby Day has already had a positive effect for our national parks: Three Senators agreed to sign a congressional letter endorsing increased funding for the National Park Service for the next fiscal year. Steps like these are an important part of ongoing educational efforts to let elected officials on both sides of the aisle know how their actions impact parks, and to remind them that Americans care about the issues and are watching their votes closely.
Fortunately, any day can be a lobby day—you don’t need to be part of a large group or call yourself a lobbyist to call your representatives’ offices and request meetings on the issues you care about. Members of Congress are eager to hear from their constituents. You don’t have to travel to Washington, D.C., to make an impact, either—elected officials regularly return to their districts on recess and appreciate hearing from voters on their home turf.
Want to learn more? Get tips on meeting with your elected officials on NPCA’s website.
Barry Cox is a copywriter and NPCA member based in the Washington, D.C., area.