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The EXPLORE Act: A Case Study in Good Policy + Good Politics

Advocacy campaigns are generally successful when the policy meets three core objectives: connectivity to local constituencies, economic impact, and a needed solution. When all three of these are present, the policy solution generally brings good policy and good politics (and is likely well on its way through the legislative process).

Of course, there are efforts that do not hit all three objectives and still make it to the finish line, but they are few and far between. This is largely because policymakers want to champion (and vote for) legislation that addresses an issue important to their constituents, grows their local economy, and provides a solution that their state or congressional district really needs. It is a fairly simple formula, but one that advocacy campaigns too often miss.

The Expanding Public Lands Outdoor Recreation Experiences (EXPLORE) Act passed without opposition in the House of Representatives this week. In a hyper-partisan atmosphere, the EXPLORE Act is an important reminder of why the confluence of good policy and good politics (obtained through the three core objectives outlined above) drives legislative success.

The EXPLORE Act is a package of bills that have been worked on – in some cases – for more than a decade. The focus of the legislation is modernizing current policies arounds outdoor recreation and creating more accessibility on both public lands and close-to-home infrastructure. The bill also notably hit all three objectives, which drove its legislative success:

Connectivity to Constituents: There is not a single state or congressional district where constituents are not prioritizing outdoor recreation. Whether biking on a local trail or backpacking in Yellowstone National Park, outdoor recreation is important to many people across the nation. Regardless of the congressional district, any policymaker will get support for touting the passage of this legislation…because it directly impacts their constituents and the life experiences they value.

Economic Impact: Last year, the outdoor recreation economy provided $1.1 trillion in economic output, employed 4.98 million jobs, and comprised 2.2% of GDP. Policy enhancements within this sector to increase access and make the outdoor experience better directly translates to better local economies, especially in rural communities.

Needed Solutions: While most of us see public lands and water as idyllic, there are many things that need adjustments or reforms to make it easier for everyone to access those lands and waters as well as other outdoor recreation opportunities locally. Permitting for guides and outfitters and regulations around climbing in wilderness areas urgently need updating, for example. Outdoor infrastructure urgently needs to be more accessible. These are real issues that need real solutions and this legislation provides those solutions.

As the EXPLORE Act makes it way through the increasingly complex legislative process, these three objectives will help bring more support and an easier path. They are solid thresholds for any advocacy campaign and should be used when building a strategy or auditing a failed effort.


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