June 20, 2023

Outdoor Alliance brings new sensibilities to conservation work with Adam Cramer [EP 388]

Show Notes

Rick Saez
Rick Saez
Outdoor Alliance brings new sensibilities to conservation work with Adam Cramer [EP 388]
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Hello again everyone, I’m excited to bring you Episode 388 of The Outdoor Biz Podcast and my conversation with Adam Cramer, founding Executive Director and current CEO of Outdoor Alliance, a national coalition of outdoor recreation advocacy groups breathing new life into the conservation movement by harnessing the outdoor community’s passion.

Adam has brought new sensibilities to conservation work that have resulted in hundreds of thousands more acres of protected landscapes and so much more . . .

Show Notes

Was there an adventure or maybe a person that inspired you to work in the outdoor biz?

I’ve had a lot of adventures that have met a lot of wonderful people. but no, to precisely answer your question, there wasn’t an adventure or a person that got me oriented in this space professionally, but, had a lot of inspiration from a lot of folks along the way.

How did you get into it professionally?

For me it was through kayaking and living in Washington DC. So I moved to DC 25 years ago right outta law school and, had a ton of law school debt, like a lot of people, and DC’s an awesome place to learn how to be a lawyer. And it also is probably one of the best whitewater cities in the world.

I’ve heard that. I’ve heard a lot of people say that. Yeah, it’s interesting. Yeah. Wouldn’t think so, but yeah, it, [00:02:50] so moved here and got into it and have these two kind of pleasantly parallel lives, being a corporate environmental lawyer during the day. And, got pretty deep into the whitewater scene here.

And how’d you get into kayaking?

Yeah, that’s a good [00:05:10] question. I was really deep into climbing. That was my jam for years. And I didn’t really have any connection to DC at all. but I moved here for [00:05:20] work and I moved here with a girl I was dating in law school. And she had the idea, she said, let’s learn something that’s new for both of us.

And we’re living in a little basement [00:05:30] apartment and, And she’s Hey, let’s learn how to kayak. And I thought, all right, this is not gonna work out that well. It involves like a lot of gear. and we’re in this little place. I’m like, all [00:05:40] right, whatever. So we go and we learn how to go into a pool session where you learn how to roll the kayak in a swimming pool.

and she hated it. And I thought, wow, this is a lot of fun. Yeah. And, And then we split up and I had a lot of time on my hands. Yeah. so I just spent a lot of time kayaking.

What was the inspiration for Outdoor Alliance? [00:08:00]

Yeah. great question. I think, the idea was that, to diversify, the constituency for conservation. And, early two thousands, [00:08:10] this is before my time, before my involvement in outdoor lands, there is this concern that, to really make advancement, for conservation, you gotta bring [00:08:20] more people to the table. And from other perspectives. And the traditional conservation community, environmental community has done so much. for, for conservation and, protecting the [00:08:30] outdoors, but it could be divisive at times.

And, there was some thought that, what other constituencies, what other communities could have [00:08:40] conservation values, but have a different identity, different perspective. And there was, an investment over time with the hunting and angling community to see if, folks that care about [00:08:50] fishing and hunting and, clean air and clean water.

Could find common ground, about broader conservation issues. And that was the genesis for organizations like 50 [00:09:00] or Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and others. And Outdoor Alliance, the idea of it arose out of, arose out of that, like if you could get hunters and anglers to work [00:09:10] together for clean air and clean water.

Was there original plan to just do something different and just evolve or just [00:09:50] feel let’s, we need to do something, let’s figure it out and do it.

Yeah. Yeah. it was people, this one guy in particular, Mike Finley, who is a career park service guy, really [00:10:00] senior in the park service and ended up, Working for the Turner Foundation, Ted Turner And Sienna. And, the foundation’s got this deep commitment to conservation, but also, coming [00:10:10] up with innovative approaches to it and Finley’s perspective was that, we need to get other folks involved in conservation.

And it was his [00:10:20] idea to reach out to the member organizations that eventually made up Alpha Alliance and see if they were even interested In working together. and that was, there was a theory [00:10:30] that they would, they, if they worked together and had some support, they could find common ground.

If they found common ground, they could maybe make a go of this. But that was [00:10:40] it. It wasn’t like, let’s form an organization. Nah, it was, somebody had a good question.

Figure out how to work together and then figure out where it goes from there. That’s smart actually, [00:10:50] cuz all the, takes all the pressure off.

who knew? there was a good, really wonderful all the organizations Access Fund, American Whitewater. And the have, really punched [00:11:00] above their weight and gotten so much done for their respective communities and protected different parts of the country harnessing the passion of their members in their broader community.

What do you think it is about those connections that drive us then to protect them? The natural resources? Is it just because we want to be able to go back and show our kids, or is it a little [00:11:40] more, I don’t know, raw than that something just drives us, that it needs to be protected for whatever reason?

Yeah,it depends on what do you mean by [00:11:50] protection? do Yeah, that’s true. For sure. Like these experiences, when you have an experience there, it becomes, depending on the experience and with whom you’re [00:12:00] having the experience. it could be part of your identity, how you see yourself, what your values are, and you know what your identity is and [00:12:10] what’s important to you, forms how you spend your time and resources.

There’s a lot of different things you could do. but if there’s. If it relates to your identity, you’re more likely to pay [00:12:20] closer attention. And find people that share that identity and share that, that perspective. So on, on one level, you ha you have an experience in a place [00:12:30] someplace is important.

You wanna you to pick up, you wanna take care of it in a physical way. Mm-hmm. When When I, mm-hmm. When I I, hike out from, pipe back to the car after I’m done boating, if I [00:12:40] see a bottle, I pick it up and put it in my boat.

But then,[00:12:50] all these places that we experience, or many of them are on public lands and public waters. And if you’re gonna protect a place at scale in a way that’s meaningful [00:13:00] and enduring, it goes beyond picking stuff up off the ground or working on a trailhead.

You got involved in the, and being civically engaged. And [00:13:10] learning about, about what conservation means and being involved and advocating for these places. And I think that, that type of work it arises is linked with. [00:13:20] Your sense of identity and your sense of values.

And so you guys do a great job working with small organizations, but they can only do so much in terms of advocacy. How do you inspire them to work together? How do [00:14:50] you get that coalition of everybody working on the same thing?

All right, so it’s like the fish, right? The fish, these little fish by themselves, they’re doing their thing. But when they [00:15:20] all get together and coordinate and they look like a big, giant fish, that’s empowering and you can get a lot of [00:15:30] stuff done.

And I think, these smaller organizations, and the member organizations at Alpha Alliance, they’re, some of them are pretty, pretty stout, Big staff and big budget. But [00:15:40] they’re, you, they all have a national network of local chapters. But the idea of, of, finding common ground across, other colleagues, it’s not just limited to the [00:15:50] outdoor space.

It’s like that’s how anything gets done In this country, In a democracy, you gotta find consensus. And I think it’s a, this melding of passion for place, and whether it’s rivers [00:16:00] or mountains or, trails or the shore, it’s different versions of the same thing. And everybody within the community realizes that currency, like this connection of place.[00:16:10]

And they, there’s also this belief that if we work together now a track record, coupled with that belief that if we do work together, we get more stuff done. You could flex a little [00:16:20] more. You could. informed outcome in a more positive way than if you’re just doing your own thing, thinking about, the world from a more of a provincial perspective, right?

There’s nothing [00:16:30] wrong with that, but the possibility of getting stuff done that’s consequential and in line with your values is very alluring.

So these next [00:16:50] two questions might be, somewhat similar. The first one is about how the outdoor alliance is structured, and then let’s talk about the four directives. Talk about the structure first. [00:17:00]

Yeah, for sure. So we’re coalition, By, by design and by culture. And the way that we’re structured we’re, a 5 0 1

We’re a non-governmental organization. [00:17:10] And, we’re made up of these 10 member organizations. and then in the beginning it was just five, and then we expanded, to welcome in other organizations. So currently it’s [00:17:20] the Access Fund, the American Canoe Association, American Whitewater, the International Mountain Bicycle Association, which of wild lands.

[00:17:30] The Mountaineers, Winter Wildlands, Mazamas, American Alpine Club, Surfrider Foundation, and Colorado Mountain Club is our newest member. I think they joined back in 2018. [00:17:40] So we’re 10 organizations. We’ve got a board of directors. Some of the member organization CEOs, sit on the board. they’ve got some seats that kind of [00:17:50] float with the organizations.

and we have at large board members, so pretty conventional From that standpoint, but we make sure that leadership for the organization for Outdoor [00:18:00] Alliance is informed by, folks that represent the community directly. and then is also, informed by other folks that are not,work at Surfrider Foundation, for example, or, [00:18:10] so we’ve got a mix of board members.

And, so that’s the basic legal structure. and in terms of consensus, there’s, I’ll look at the world in a slightly different [00:18:20] way, but there’s this culture of trying to find common ground. And it takes work. but we’re able to find enough common ground. So that we’ve got plenty of things to do. And [00:18:30] it’s like you don’t agree on everything, but there’s so much we do agree on. Yeah. Focus on that.

How often do you get together? [00:18:40]

So we get together as a board four times a year. Sometimes via Zoom, sometimes in person. And, and the [00:18:50] folks that are, the policy leads and the communication leads for the member organizations they meet on a weekly basis, Keeps everything current. So very consistent. Um,regular contact [00:19:10] amongst everybody within the coalition.

You have four directives that, that meeting every week helps you achieve directive number one. understand the [00:19:20] issues deeply. If you’re getting together that often you can stay on top of them. Tell us a little bit more about what that means.

yeah. So we coordinate and run these weekly meetings with, [00:19:30] recall these, Folks, the joint policy shop, the JPS, and it’s basically like a think pa, a think tank of outdoor dirt bags, who also are like [00:19:40] policy geniuses and strategic maestros, right?

They’re, it’s like the policy and the comms leadership of all our member organizations. they’re professionals, they’re part of the community, and we bring [00:19:50] them together and we leverage that expertise to see, figure out like what’s going on in Congress, what’s going on with the forest service.

And what do we think? What [00:20:00] are the opportunities? So that’s what keeps things fresh and it enables, consensus and, a collective perspective. Yeah. Yeah.

And meeting weekly just, that really [00:20:10] drives that home cuz you never have time to forget. You’re back at it. You back at it the next week.

That’s right. It doesn’t go stale. That’s awesome.

And you build long-term relationships [00:20:20] and trust with all these age people and agencies. How do you do that?

Yeah, with, with meeting with people pretty regularly. And it starts with, [00:20:30] convening the leaders of the outdoor community.

We meet with ourselves most importantly. cuz that builds trust and it builds a, common perspective on policy priorities. [00:20:40] And, if you’re gonna get involved in policy and advocacy, you gotta get a sense of what do you want? What are your outcomes? What are your desires?

What is, what does the community want? So we spend a lot of time with the, with [00:20:50] ourselves to figure that out. And then we spend a ton of time working with, policy makers from across the country, like legislators, people that have elected the Congress and their [00:21:00] staff, and. The administration, whoever’s in the White House and all the folks that work in the administration and land management agencies like Yeah.

Forest Service and Bureau Land Management.[00:21:10] and we meet with all these folks, like pretty consistently, like I think over the last several years we counted, we had about [00:21:20] 400 meetings Over the last few years with policy makers and their staff. And it’s us and. the folks from the joint policy shop and that’s what we do.

[00:21:30] In terms of building these relationships, cuz if you, you just show up cap in hand and you’re like, Hey, we want this. Yeah. Or

would you consider that? Yeah. You show up every [00:21:40] three months. Yeah. That doesn’t work. Yeah. You gotta do it consistently, build a dialogue. They understand your perspectives, who you represent and they know who you are. You guys know who [00:21:50] everybody is with that many times getting together.

And that closeness, that’s really the other part of it too, is just you really cement those personal relationships, which makes it [00:22:00] easier. Sometimes tougher, but easier in general, I would think.

And you guys rely a lot on data to inform the approach [00:22:20] to conversation, who’s data, whose conservation data is it? It’s, I’m sure there’s all kinds of people throwing data at you, right?

Yeah, it started with like in the very early days[00:22:30] of Outdoor Alliance. I had a question for the, for the member organizations and it was, Like, where’s all this? All the stuff [00:22:40] like where are all the trails, right? The rivers, like I know anecdotally where I go kayaking. And where good mountain bike happens to be. But is it mostly in the Forest Service, [00:22:50] national Forest or blm? Or how important are the parks? And I ask this question because we had to figure out like who do we build relationships with?

Which agencies [00:23:00] are the most relevant? And nobody really knew. That anecdotal information AW. On the other hand AW, did know they had a, they maintained a national database [00:23:10] of River, river, Put ins and Whitewater runs. Aws, American Whitewater, we, American Whitewater. That’s right.

And we realized like, we need to figure this out. And, so we [00:23:20] built out this, GIS lab a number of years ago, and the design is that we would partner with entities that have data. That the [00:23:30] user community used like Mountain Project or Trail Works, and, would be able to use and aggregate that data for policy and advocacy purposes.

So we partner with [00:23:40] entities that own the data and they license it to us so we could use it to inform and enhance our advocacy work. And it’s been a game changer. So knowing [00:23:50] where climbing routes are if there’s a wilderness. Proposed wilderness designation is important.

It has an impact on fixed anchors. and then also if you could [00:24:00] immobilize the broader community to protect a place, to be able to get a sense as to, what the intersection is between a landscape and these different pursuits, and by [00:24:10] extension, these different communities is profoundly important.

Going back to our earlier conversation, it makes it personal, right? We gotta know where the stuff is, We could [00:24:20] sort through all the things that are going on and identify the things that are the most consequential, the most relevant to our community. And those are the things where we could have the biggest impact.[00:24:30]

That must be an amazing database. you guys just have everything in the catalog.

It’s fairly complete. Like I don’t know. I don’t think [00:24:40] there’s another entity that’s got access to, aggregate. All the human powered outdoor pursuits in the way that we do. That’s amazing.

Now it’s not consumer facing. Like those, that’s where the apps, if you [00:24:50] wanna know where to ride your bike, if you live in Minnesota, like you’re not coming to outdoor lines. You go to the apps. But how much mountain biking is in,[00:25:00] the G mug national forest for the purposes of forest planning.

We, that’s important. And we were able to get that data and share it with the Forest Service to inform [00:25:10] their decision making. Yeah, It will impact mountain biking, so yeah, that’s pretty cool.

And you do a lot to [00:26:00] empower individuals to make a difference How does that happen? you guys get together a lot as groups it sounds like. Yeah. And then people go back and do their thing. Are they [00:26:10] empowered to go take what they’ve learned or what they know and interact locally? I’m sure you want them to do that.

Yeah, for sure. For sure. And it’s a great [00:26:20] strategic value for the organization to pursue our mission and we do that. Because, we’re generous with our expertise. And, public policy is complicated. [00:26:30] Yeah. And there’s, why should people know about all the nuance? And, but we do. So what we do is we educate the community and, about what’s going on and provide them the tools to speak up [00:26:40] and take action.

And community is, They’ve taken us up on this invitation at scale. over the last several years we’ve had, I don’t know, a quarter million [00:26:50] messages from folks within our community to policy makers, on matters that relate to conservation and sustainable and equitable access. we connect the [00:27:00] dots between what’s going on and people’s passion.

How to show up and they do. And that tell you, Rick, that’s huge. Profoundly inspiring.

So this next question is a little, uh, not sure. I think this came from a buddy of mine actually, but do policymakers and especially elected [00:27:20] officials really care about what the outdoor community thinks? It seems like sometimes it seems like they do, but then other times you look at what the [00:27:30] results are and go, wow, you didn’t even listen to what they said.

Y might sound strange, but, look [00:27:40] at the world from an elected official’s perspective. Have a little compassion, they got 50 million things coming down. ’em, There’s so much going on, and they’re [00:27:50] all accountable to at least like six or 700,000 people.

You’re a Congress person, right? Let alone a whole state, like California. If you’re a [00:28:00] senator and it’s a hard job, they gotta make these decisions on behalf of their constituents. You know what’s in the best interest of the state and the district. And [00:28:10] there’s no way you could know all those things.

So it goes back to these relationships and you’re not gonna make everybody happy. it’s just the nature of the job. that’s not the job, That’s not the job. You gotta pull all the [00:28:20] information in and exercise your judgment and whether you do a good job or not as. revisited, every two years you’re your congressperson or six years or four years for the president, [00:28:30] right?

But that’s the jam. So for them to exercise this judgment, they have to get perspectives and a diverse amount of perspectives and it’s perspectives that are informed of people [00:28:40] that know a thing or two about, of protecting the place over what it means. So the, not only do they, they need to listen to us and not just us [00:28:50] to do their job.

To be successful at it. yeah, to answer your question directly. Yeah. They very much do care and more so if you’re a constituent. And even more so if you know what you’re [00:29:00] talking about. Which is like all of us. Cuz we spend time in these places, from these firsthand experiences.

And a lot of people might be intimidated to use their voice for advocacy and may end up not doing anything cuz they think their voice doesn’t matter. How does their voice make a [00:29:50] difference?

Yeah. if you don’t show up, think of it this way. You don’t show up and don’t say what you think. You basically doubled the impact of somebody Yeah. That you don’t [00:30:00] agree with. That does show up.

So you could think you don’t matter, but there are people who don’t agree with you and they’re showing up. [00:30:10] And it’s part of living in a democracy. It’s not just voting, it’s, sharing what you think. you’re helping these elected officials and, policy makers do their job. that’s critical.

But[00:30:20] think from the perspective of a brand, right? You think about your consumers, you think about your [00:30:30] community, and there’s no way you could ever capture what everybody thinks. But it’s a relentless pursuit. To figure out [00:30:40] what customers want And what they need. You’re modeling things out and you’re asking people and you’re just like absorbing as much information and you’re using that to inform business decisions.[00:30:50] So Congress people do the same thing. Yeah. And if you think that it doesn’t matter, like a, policy maker doesn’t care what you think, that’s.[00:31:00]

That makes as much sense as a business thinking that the customer doesn’t matter. And the customer’s perspective doesn’t matter if you believe in that. If you think that’s worthy. [00:31:10] Same thing.

And how do you guys champion the idea that for businesses and individuals, it’s not nearly as difficult or complicated as people think to get [00:31:20] involved?

It’s pretty simple, really. And you can make a big difference. the first thing is, you look at Congress, what’s [00:31:30] 535 elected officials. You got a hundred hundred senators, And all these Congress people. But, you’ve got three in the federal government.

[00:31:40] You’ve got your congressperson, you’ve got two senators, and the governor, let’s say four. It’s four people. It’s not hundreds. And you’re a constituent. So [00:31:50] that’s one way to simplify things instead of just you’ve heard that, that, that phrase how to eat a whale. one bite at a time.

don’t try to eat the whole whale. But if you’re able to [00:32:00] establish dialogue, with your elected officials as a constituent and as an informed constituent, with you’re an individual or whether you’re a business, [00:32:10] it’s, it’s your superpower. They need to listen to you. Just to break it down a little bit, it’s, you don’t have to do everything well, you have to keep showing up. back to that [00:32:20] baseball analogy, a player gets, I don’t know, a thousand, 2000 at bats to bat 300, so they clearly don’t get ahead every time, but you just gotta keep showing up and showing up and dropping [00:32:30] your message, that’s how get it done. Being patient, thinking about the long game. Dropping your message, but also like listening To like how they’re thinking about [00:32:40] things. yeah. What are their other, what their Cs are, right? Yeah. So working businesses and individuals find an organization that kind of reflects their values and partner with them.

Do you guys have a big long list? You must,[00:32:50]

The 10 members. Those 10. And then they got a big, yeah, they got bigger list. So like I’ll, I think. [00:33:00] One, really good starting point is outdoor alliance. We find consensus right.

Amongst the 10 member organizations, but the 10 member organizations, they’re all like,[00:33:10] complete ballers in this space. They’re amazing. And I think using what’s important to you in terms of the different pursuits, the different communities, different geographies or typographies, [00:33:20] use that as a filter go hang out with people that you like. And that do things that inspire you. And that’s a start. So Outdoor Alliance for sure. That [00:33:30] member organizations and then each of these member organizations, they’ve got, networks of local organizations Based on your geography. So you [00:33:40] want to go really local, look at one of the EMBA local chapters or a local climbing organization from Access Fund. you wanna look at the Get deep in national policy, [00:33:50] always where to go.

Tell us about your favorite outdoor activity, obviously kayaking. Do you have another one?

yeah. I love [00:34:00] whitewater kayaking. I compliment that with quite a bit of mountain biking. and as, as wonderful as DC is for, For Whitewater, it’s it’s not the best for, for skiing. [00:34:10] You gotta go somewhere. Yeah, that’s right. Yeah.

Yeah. we’ve got some local stuff. but, so those are the pursuits, my doing it with people that I care about, my [00:34:20] friends with my kids, that’s just what puts it over the top.

Do you have any suggestions or advice for folks wanting to work in conservation?

for sure. [00:35:10] I think like realizing that conservation and politics are like, They’re intertwined in this country. You can’t really do [00:35:20] one without the other. And that’s because, there’s so much of outdoor recreation and kind of the outdoors are on public lands.

And public lands are gonna be what happens on public lands. [00:35:30] Whether you can serve these places or develop these places, it’s part of a public process. So you can have this desire to protect, but you gotta couple that with a [00:35:40] clear and eye understanding that you know, you gotta get involved in advocacy and.

Specifally engaged. And feel okay about that and realize that you’re not alone. There are a lot of [00:35:50] organizations that get this space and find some organizations and people that you like, and the path will be, will be made apparent. [00:36:00]

Yeah. And if you’re listening to this podcast, you probably know a number of people that are doing it already.

So you have friends and family just to go help you get in. yeah.

[00:36:10] Yeah. learn what you can. from, after Alliance and the member organizations and whoever is doing work that inspires you. There’s a good chance they’re an NGO and that they’re adept at [00:36:20] working with volunteers and people that care about places.

you talking about the baseball analogy? Yeah. Showing up, not just to show up at a congress person’s office, call your local chapter Surf Rider. [00:36:30] Foundation.

That’s great. Bonds. Yeah. yep. Yeah, that’s how to do it. let’s have a little fun now. not that way.

What’s your [00:36:40] favorite outdoor gear purchase? Under a hundred dollars.

Oh my goodness. Under a hundred bucks. Yeah. Huh? yeah, I’d probably [00:36:50] say, A Cliff Bar.

Do you have any, do you have a couple of favorite books that are your go-tos all the time? Good with friends and stuff.

I think one of my, one of my favorites, one of my favorites is, I love James Baldwin. he’s a phenomenal author. The Fire Next Time [00:37:30] is, I think one of my favorites. It’s really short. It’s like a, it’s essentially a letter to his nephew. It’s a beautifully written book and, That’s maybe 120 pages or something like [00:37:40] that, Oh, wow. Okay. That’s just a, that’s a wonderful read. and then I think it came out like you wrote in the sixties and that, and something a little more, but it’s timeless. yeah. Anything [00:37:50] by James’s Baldwin. and then, I guess more, more recently I read this book, the End of the Myth by Greg Grandlin.

And, It’s a kind of an exploration of this [00:38:00] idea of the frontier in American culture and history and, fascinating. I’ve learned so much. it’s

so amazing too, how that [00:38:10] continues, after all these years that this country has been around, how the frontier still drives just something deep down in us that, we just, we all embody it.[00:38:20]

Oh yeah. And how it’s not just, it was a physical thing and then it became like a cultural, political thing. And, just a fascinating book. Oh, cool. [00:38:30] and I guess one other, now I’m thinking something I’ve read recently Caste by Isabel Wilkerson. Yeah. She, it. Beautifully written book.

[00:38:40] Fascinating. okay, so those are three. Yes. For one, those are three, yeah. Perfect.

Got ’em. Awesome. We’ll link to those all in the show notes. Yeah. as we wrap up, is there anything else you would like to say to, or ask of our listeners? [00:38:50]

Oh, just an expression of, of appreciation for all the folks that we either dipping into conservation and advocacy [00:39:00] or the ones and some encouragement to anybody that’s curious, It’s a warm and welcoming space.

We need all the help that we could get and, it’s a lot of [00:39:10] fun. I was gonna say, there’s a lot of fun to be had while you’re doing it too.

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