Two years ago, when the Trump administration announced plans to shrink the newly formed boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah, the outdoor recreation industry sprang into action. Lawsuits were filed, op-eds were penned and the homepage of Patagonia’s website went black, with this message scrawled across it: “The President Stole Your Land.”
Now, at the U.S.-Mexico border, another battle is brewing. In February, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency there, meaning that typical environmental and cultural review were waived on more than 500 acres of public land now slated for border wall construction. As a result, in places like Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, saguaros are being ripped from the ground and tribal nations will lose access to land sacred to them. Once it is built, the wall will sever wildlife habitat between the U.S. and Mexico. Conservationists and activists at the border are tirelessly documenting every development. But lately, they’ve begun asking themselves, “Where is everyone else?”
When it comes to the Borderlands, the fight for public lands looks much different. The land isn’t considered a recreation mecca and so far it hasn’t been the focus of prominent campaigns by the outdoor recreation industry. As a result, the public lands that hug the southern border don’t reap the benefits of the debate’s most powerful voice: Big Rec. When the recreation industry focuses attention on places like Bears Ears, those landscapes steer the narrative and influence which public lands are considered worth fighting for.
Border residents who have deep ties to the landscape and its wildlife – but lack the money to buy products from companies like Patagonia, for example – are losing out on that sort of advocacy currency. Access to the outdoors can be expensive. Transportation costs, and the increasing price of park passes and outdoor gear make some forms of recreating out of reach for disadvantaged communities. At places like REI, where public lands advocacy is “very much member-driven, and driven by interests in and around where we do business,” according to Marc Berejka, REI’s director of community and government affairs, that means that certain communities don’t receive as much attention. “We’ve not heard the same amount of outcry for engagement for purposes of creating or sustaining recreational opportunities” when it comes to places like Organ Pipe, Berejka said.