Did the Great Outdoors just get Greater?

Andrew Deerin

SignalCast sat down with EVP Charles Cooper to discuss a new Public Lands Initiative winding its way through congress. What will it include and what does the future hold for public lands? Have a listen and find out.

SIGNALCAST: Welcome to SignalCast. The podcast from Signal Group. Signal is a bipartisan communication and advocacy firm located in Washington D.C. As always, I’m your host Andrew Deerin, Creative Director at Signal, and as someone who loves being outdoors, and even more so since I have active kids who literally bounce off the walls when stuck indoors, I’ve been hearing more and more about a new public lands initiative winding its way through Congress. Joining me today to give me a better understanding is Signal’s own Charles Cooper. Welcome, Charles.

CHARLES COOPER: Good to be back in the Signal Studio.

SC: There’s a lot of attention around this public lands legislative package. Why?

COOPER: Well, in part because public lands bills don’t move very often. There have been a couple years of real partisanship around issues in the public land space, and for that reason, there’s a lot of attention when a large comprehensive package is moving.

Secondly, there’s some really big provisions that are historic in nature and will make a pretty significant difference in public lands policy should this get across the finish line, so there’s a lot of people watching it. Candidly, this is one really good example of where Republicans and Democrats from across the country are coming together to get this finished.

SC: Take me through then how this bill came to be.

COOPER: Well, for the last few years people have been introducing really good bills in the public land space and for a variety of reasons they have not been going very far. Some have passed the House or passed the Senate but most have been sort of caught up in committee and they’ve been waiting for sort of a larger package to move, especially on the recreation side which is where we represent a number of clients sort of in the outdoor recreation space. We’ve been sort of waiting for a package to move so that all of these really good provisions can be attached to it and ultimately signed into law.

SC: What are some of the key provisions in this bill?

COOPER: This bill sort of has two different areas. One is land designations – so specific pieces of land that they’re making changes to. For example, there will be a handful of new National Heritage Areas because of this bill. On the other side, there’s a lot of policy changes, and that’s where we spend most of our time. For example, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which is a large program that really helps outdoor recreation and conservation, is always subject to an annual fight on whether we should authorize it or not. This bill, for the first time, makes the program permanent and eliminates the need to have that annual debate.

The bill also gives every fourth grader and three family members access to all public lands for free in an effort to really create more access to public lands. It makes some changes to the Conservation Service Corp. It does a lot of really meaningful things to help not only make sure we protect public lands but also that people have real access to them.

SC: Two-part question – where does this bill go from here and do you think it will have any implications for future land bills?

COOPER: The bill has passed the Senate which is a pretty significant move. It’s over in the House now. We think it will be passed potentially as early as next week, and then it will go to the President and the President’s expected to sign it. Any efforts to sort of undermine the bill have not gone anywhere. We feel really confident this is going to get finished, and it’s a great way of better understanding that there’s a new trend out there. Public lands’ policy is becoming a lot more bipartisan, and a lot more members of Congress are interested in it.

I will say there’s a few issues that are not in this bill that are still really important, especially for outdoor recreation and public lands issues. Issues related to streamlining permitting for example. Issues in funding maintenance backlog on our public lands. We think there’s going to be hopefully another bite at the apple down the road on that, so we’re really excited about that, but for now, the trend that we’re seeing, we think this bill means that hopefully there’s more bipartisanship ahead when it comes to public lands.

SC: Well that’ll do it for today’s show. My thanks to Charles Cooper for taking the time to sit down with SignalCast and giving me the ins and out of the new public lands package. Sounds like I need to go get my sub-zero sleeping bag out of storage and hit the great outdoors. To get in touch, check us out on the web at signaldc.com. For our entire production staff, I’m Andrew Deerin, and we’ll see you next time.