Public Lands Alliance and Friends Alliance Convene Together

Seven hundred friends from two national organizations that support national parks and other public lands met in Washington, D.C. last week: Public Lands Alliance and Friends Alliance. The nonprofit Public Lands Alliance is a network of more than 120 member organizations that serve public lands such as national parks and forests, state and county parks, and every major federal land management agency. They contribute over $150 million dollars annually to the preservation and visitor enhancement of those lands. The National Park Friends Alliance is an informal union of friends groups executives and park officials who work to advance partnership and philanthropic ideas.

On Thursday, February 16, more than 130 nonprofit executives and partners visited with their elected representatives on Capitol Hill to discuss issues of importance to America’s public lands. Public Lands Alliance, in partnership with the National Parks Conservation Association, organized this day of advocacy, education and engagement. I was fortunate to join Friends of Acadia in meeting with each member of the Maine delegation to discuss issues affecting Acadia National Park.

Public Lands Alliance members addressed many critical issues.

  • Increase Funding for Public Lands:
    • operations accounts that fund land managers who maintain facilities and educate visitors
    • construction accounts to address maintenance needs
    • reauthorize the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act
    • enable nonprofit public land partners to play a key role in improving lands and the visitor experience.
  • Capitalize on Public-Private Partnerships
    • Support legislation that increases the development and long-term success of America’s public land nonprofit partner.
    • Appropriate funds that incentivize private support for public lands and encourage relationship building between private and public sectors like the National Park Service Centennial Challenge Fund.
  • Support Youth Engagement Opportunities
    • Support legislation and funding to continue the Every Kid in a Park initiative or a new program that achieves similar goals across all land management agencies.
    • Pass the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act.

Why do they do that? – Working with federal employees.

I spent 15 years working at mission-driven nonprofits. It was a fertile environment for new ideas. I found if I had a good idea, and it fulfilled our mission, I was free to make it happen once funding was secured. The principle caution was not to break any laws in the process.

I’ve also been a manager with the National Park Service. Shortly after joining the federal workforce I discovered a fundamentally different approach to implementing good ideas. And there are just as many generated in government. The decision about whether to “go for it,” well, that gets complicated.

NPS is a mission-driven organization. Many employees will tell you that’s why they show up at work every day. However once the mission test is past, government employees must then check to see if the activity is AUTHORIZED, as well be mindful of not doing something illegal.

The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. The Park Service cooperates with partners to extend the benefits of natural and cultural resource conservation and outdoor recreation throughout this country and the world.

The power of the executive branch to act comes from the U.S. Constitution and laws passed by Congress. There is a National Park Service because Congress created it by law in 1916. In addition to establishing the agency’s purpose, the 1916 law—and subsequent laws—established what NPS staff is allowed to do. Sometimes a good idea is not within bounds of those allowed activities.

For instance, accepting the help of volunteers is a good idea, right? NPS uses volunteers to augment maintenance, administration, resource management, and visitor services. They do this because Congress AUTHORIZED the acceptance of volunteer work through the Volunteers in the Parks Act of 1969. The same is true for the authority to accept donations, which Congress granted in 1920 for donations consistent with NPS goals and objectives.

Of course, many other laws also guide and direct park staff. Add to this decision-making mix the interpretation of laws by the Executive branch, which are written into regulations, and decisions by the leaders of NPS: agency and park policy.

A unique aspect of national parks, compared to other federal lands, is that each park is individually authorized by legislation. The enabling legislation for a particular park may give NPS more or less authority to form partnerships. It’s therefore essential to be familiar with your park’s specific legislation.

Remember, federal employees cannot work with a partner just because it’s a good idea. In addition to mission alignment, the activity must be authorized.

How a forester became a facilitator.

During a college course on dendrology—from dendr (related to trees) and ology (a branch of learning)—I sensed that forestry would not be the career for me. My response was to switch to park management, thinking “parks are for people.” I earned a degree in wildland recreation.

I soon realized that most conservation work is for and about people. My first job was steward of a state-wide network of nature preserves. While it was likely the work of scientists and naturalists which led to these areas being set aside, my job as a land manager was working with volunteers and staff. In most cases our management concerns related to use by visitors or neighbors. My work was about people.

With each new job in nonprofit conservation I found I increasingly relied on effective relationships. This became crystal clear by the time I managed an urban national park. Talk about relationships! In this case, effective partnerships between individuals and organizations protect an urban wild with significant natural and cultural resources. Outdoor recreation experiences, including primitive camping, are available to a population of 4.8 million via public transportation. Try doing that without working with people.

Today I am a professional facilitator. I pursued a degree in education and now work with groups to help them with “people skills.” I’m still a conservationist, as I work mostly with clients in the park and natural areas community. Our passion is about the wild; however our action is about the social.

Conservation is about people.