Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Mountain Pact: Introductions and Learnings

Internships are amazing ways to learn. When I applied for the internship with the Mountain Pact my knowledge of political advocacy was incredibly limited. I knew I wanted to learn more about being involved in environmental policy and so I decided to take a chance to learn in a hands-on way. I got the internship and the learning started immediately. At first I was just playing a bit of catch up; learning about what the Mountain Pact was all about. And now the real work has begun.

Mountain communities across the American West are experiencing detrimental effects of to our environment and economies as a result of climate change: increases in catastrophic wildfire, the spread of the mountain pine beetle epidemic and reduced snow pack are just a few of the impacts compromising our landscapes and, in turn, our tourism-based economies. Currently, mountain communities are unheard and unrepresented in the national climate dialogue. The Mountain Pact offers an innovative approach to mobilize mountain towns across the American West to call for federal action on climate change adaptation (preparing of climate change impacts) and mitigation (reducing GHG emissions).  

The start of my internship involves supporting efforts around a two year campaign for reforms to how the federal government funds wildfire suppression. This campaign works to draw the attention t of lawmakers to recognize the growing stress that federal land managers in the Interior Department and Department of Agriculture are under with the increase in frequency and severity of wildfires. Federal land agencies, such as the National Forest Service, are spending more and more of their  limited budgets every year on suppression costs to fight catastrophic wildfires.  This means that funds are being pulled from other essential programs crucial to ensuring adequate forest management .

So, the Mountain Pact  has been working with national coalitions to shape and inform a long-term and comprehensive wildfire funding fix.  Part of their efforts have been collecting signatures to a sign-on letter they authored that will be sent to Congressional leadership urging them to consider these costs in the fall budget negotiations.  Fourteen towns from eight states have signed on to the letter. I helped to identify the Congressional leadership of the participating towns so a copy of the letter could be sent to their corresponding House and Senate leadership.

Participating in this work, I learned about campaign strategy and the importance of timing. This letter will be sent out twice, once at the beginning of November because Congress will be in budget negotiations; but also, it will be sent again after the administration change occurs so that the new lawmakers will also be made aware of this issue.

Another component of the campaign is media outreach. I conducted research for the organization to see what the current media coverage of the topic is and recommend how the Mountain Pact can bring the Western mountain town perspective to the national conversation. They hope for an article to be published next month, so stayed tuned.

Coming up - since it is election season - there will be a lot of work focused on informing mountain towns about what the election results and other relevant   legislation means to Western mountain towns. So far, the learning has been great and I already feel more informed about the national climate conversation and how policy changes happen. I’m looking forward to more hands-on learning!