08 May What Happened in Vegas: The Next 100 Coalition National Summit
Within minutes of my flight touching down at McCarran International Airport I felt that unique buzz of kinetic energy.
Like a force of nature the city of Las Vegas, Nevada seems to vibrate with the thrum of living creatures writhing in a primeval forest of tall buildings. Throughout an ecosystem whose atmosphere teams with the smell of cigarettes, the sound of slot machines and the fuzzy glow of neon lights, the temperature was relatively cool, even pleasant on this day in early spring. A gentle breeze wafted across the desert from the mountains to the East. But everyone around me seemed too interested in frozen margaritas and daiquiris to notice. The weather was glorious. In this city that epitomizes the ultimate capacity for human beings to consume the Earth’s natural resources with abandon I was resigned to allow all that happens in Vegas to stay in Vegas. Here was the last place I’d ever thought to discuss the importance of environmental conservation.
But as one of my followers on Facebook pointed out there’s more to Vegas than video poker and half-priced cocktails at happy hour. “U.S. News and World Report recently named UNLV the most diverse university in the United States and I can think of 20 state or national parks within four hours of Las Vegas,” wrote Jeff Sparks, a local resident. “So for all intents and purposes I hope Vegas isn’t actually TOO good a place to gather!”
Truthfully, there’s no place better to talk about protecting the environment than wherever you happen to be. Cheap flights and hotel rooms made Vegas an ideal location to bring together more than 100 of my friends and colleagues from across the country. Activists and staffers from many of the leading organizations dedicated to the protection of public land came to share their thoughts and best practices in our respective efforts to make the natural world more accessible to a broader cross-section of the American people. In hopes of consolidating our best ambitions into a strategic plan, the Next 100 Coalition held its first national summit.
As it happens, we convened our meeting at the Springs Preserve. A beautiful nature education center far from the glitz and lights of downtown, the Springs Preserve provided an excellent backdrop from which to talk about how the various organizations who attended the summit might work to make the outdoors more diverse, equitable and inclusive. Speakers on the various panels included leaders like José Gonzalez, the founder of Latino Outdoors and Jackie Ostfeld, director of the Outdoors Campaign at the Sierra Club. Special interests groups included The Wilderness Society, represented by recreation policy associate Hannah Malvin. She is also with Pride Outside, a support organization for the LGBTQ community. I had the pleasure of meeting Lylianna Alllala, the Outreach Coordinator for U.S. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal of Washington State and Brent Robinson, Field Representative for Senator Kamala Harris of California. From every corner of the conservation movement committed professionals came to lend their voices in a profound demonstration of national solidarity.
Discussions during each breakout session explored the prospects of bringing under presented segments of the population, people of color, Native Americans and those who identify as LGBTQ, into the community of stewardship that protects our public land. Working to secure the future of the natural environment well through the second century of the National Park System and beyond, the Next 100 Coalition aims to break down some of the cultural and political limitations that prevent people across the country from fully participating in conservation. The policy agenda that the Coalition intends to move forward has three primary objectives:
- A public lands and conservation workforce that reflects the growing diversity of our nation, both in rank-and-file positions and throughout leadership ranks.
- Abundant opportunities for people, especially those from marginalized communities, to enjoy nature and outdoor recreation, through federal public lands, state parks, and city open space.
- Establishment of public lands that reflect the diverse culture and experiences of our people, and respect and uplift our collective experience in America.
In a nation of people who share the common necessity of fresh air, clean water, sustainably grown food and open space to roam freely, these objectives should be without controversy. But there are individuals and institutions that have placed a higher priority on the extraction and consumption of nonrenewable resources such as oil, coal and gas. As long as the American people place a higher premium on cheap energy and devalue the importance of preserving our natural heritage there will always be a need to encourage the less likely to spend more time in the outdoors.
As the Trump Administration has demonstrated with the reduction in size of national monuments such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante, we are rolling back decades of advancement in environmental protection. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has yet to appoint or even a nominate a new director of the National Park Service. Same goes for the Bureau of Land Management. Secretary Sonny Purdue at the Department of Agriculture also has not filled the current vacancy at the head of the U.S. Forest Service. Without guidance and leadership these federal agencies that are so critical to the preservation of our natural resources will gradually loose their ability to serve the best interests of the American people. Financial resources that could have been allocated toward environmental protection may go instead to expand the influence of corporations. U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Matso of Nevada addressed the Summit and expressed her support of improving access to public land. But as she told me in a private conversation, she and her fellow legislators need to make a stronger case for the natural resources we cherish.
“We tend to fund the things we value,” she said. “And defund those things are that less important.”
The Next 100 Coalition wants to give voice to the emerging populations of U.S. citizens that have been historically left out of the conversation on protecting the environment. Those who gathered at the national summit in Las Vegas shared their commitment to educate and encourage their communities to become engaged as advocates for the outdoors. In the coming weeks and months members of the Coalition will continue to discuss and ultimately formalize its policy agenda. Through the collective agreement of each organization involved the Next 100 Coalition aims to establish a national movement to frame the priorities of those who want to make the natural environment accessible to everyone. At least in this instance, what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.