A peak in King, Washington
Mailbox peak -- King, Washington
Sean Munson

Speaking up for public lands: how to write a letter to your representatives

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No doubt about it, public lands need your help. Social media makes it easier than ever for you to voice your support—but if you really want to make an impression on decision-makers, there’s a lot to be said for doing it the old-fashioned way.

“A lot of people don’t realize the power of writing a letter to their elected officials,” says The Trust for Public Land’s Britni Rillera. She joined us after years on Capitol Hill—most recently as a senior staffer for Representative John Lewis of Georgia—so she should know.“Just a tiny fraction of citizens will ever take the time to do it, so one letter can speak as loudly as thousands of votes.”

Whether you want to support or oppose legislation or request a fix at your local park, the personal letter is a tried-and-true way to get your point across. Sure, it takes more time than a hashtag—but with these tips from Rillera, letter-writing doesn’t have to be hard. 

1. Choose wisely. 
Decisions about public land are made at every level of government, from town councils to the halls of Congress. If you’re fired up about funding national parks, write to your U.S. senator or representative. If you think the city park down the street deserves a new playground, try the mayor.

 “Elected officials do want to hear from everyday Americans,” Rillera says. “But their staff is probably crazy busy, so they might not respond to letters from people outside of their constituency.” That’s why it’s important to write to the right person. Need help figuring out who your elected officials are? Start here. 

Former Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker cuts a ribbon surrounded by school kidsFormer Newark mayor Cory Booker helped the New Jersey city open Nat Turner Park in 2009. Scenes like this wouldn't be possible without people like you voicing their support for parks.Photo credit: J. Avery Wham Photography

2. Get personal.
Do you use a trail or greenway to bike to work—or wish you could? Where do you go hiking with your dog on your day off? Is there a national park that your family visits year after year? Describing your personal connection to public land helps make your letter memorable and authentic. “The more specific you are, the more powerful your message will be,” says Rillera.

3. Share your knowledge.
Even the savviest politicians can’t know everything there is to know about the public land in their districts. What you observe in your daily life might not be so obvious from inside a congressional office: your perspective might actually teach an official something new. 

When Representative Lewis’s office was drawing the boundaries of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, Rillera got a letter from a community group who wanted their building included in the park. “They told us King attended all kinds of meetings there, which was something I hadn’t uncovered in my own research,” she recalls. “Because those folks took the initiative, that structure is a part of the park bill today.”

A woman sits on the shore of a lake in Glacier National Park looking towards a mountain.Channel your best park memories into a strong defense of the places you love.Photo credit: Jeff L. Fox

4. Keep it short—and sweet.
You’ll need some space to tell those personal stories, but don’t write a novel: the best letters are no longer than a single typed page. And of course, be civil. Rillera says a strong argument in a respectful tone is more likely to be taken seriously than an all-caps rant. 

5. Know what you want.
End your letter with a request. You can be general, such as asking your representative to put public land over private profit, or specific, letting them know how you’d like them to vote on a piece of legislation. (You can use govtrack.us to keep an eye on bills working their way through Congress.)

If your representative is already a staunch supporter of public lands, you might thank them and ask them to keep up the good work. “You can invite them to visit a park in your district that’s special to you, or if you want to be a mega-advocate, request a face-to-face meeting,” Rillera says. 

So you’ve sent your letter. Now what?

Once you’ve dropped it in the mail, it’s easy to feel like your letter (and your time!) has disappeared into the vortex of legislative process. But take heart: “I solemnly swear your letter will be read by a real human,” Rillera assures us. Each congressional office has someone responsible for fielding letters, emails, and calls. Staff keep a tally of the messages and take the numbers—plus some of the personal stories behind them—to their boss, the elected official, so that he or she has a read on the most engaged constituents (that’s you!).

Still feeling stuck? 
Here’s an example of a letter about H.R. 3650, the State National Forest Act.

Man rides a mountain bike on a dirt road in a forestIf it passes, H.R. 3650 could transfer millions of acres of federally protected forests to states to be managed "primarily for timber production"—not hiking, biking, camping, or any of the other ways we love to get outside.Photo credit: Scot Hampton

The Honorable [your representative’s name here]
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Ms./Mrs./Mr. [your representative’s last name]:

My name is [your name] and I live in [your town]. I am writing today to express my gratitude for your support of public lands, and to tell you why I hope you will vote against H.R. 3650, the State National Forest Act of 2015. 

The Forest Service protects the “land of many uses,” and I have tested that concept thoroughly in my life – from canoeing in the Boundary Waters in northern Minnesota with my grandparents, to hiking through old-growth rainforests in western Washington, to riding my bike through Utah’s La Sal Mountains. I’m grateful for the variety of opportunities I’ve had to encounter nature in our national forests, and I’m proud that—so far—we’ve protected these wonderful places from destruction.

I’m worried about the influence of anti-public lands politicians in Congress, who put forth bills like H.R. 3650, the State National Forest Act. I fear that greed could undo generations of careful work to maintain delicate ecosystems – not to mention the possibility of the public losing access to the land.

I hope we as a country can continue to protect the landscapes that allow for human exploration and sustainable economies, rather than giving in to corporate interests and short-term profit. Please help keep our national forest system strong and vote against H.R. 3650.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

[Your name]
[Your address]

 

Comments

Michael Bradley
Could you provision the public lands and protect them as they are landscapes of the national environment. thank you,
Davido
All politicians these days are scum. They should never be in the gov for more than 4 years!!!! They take bribes and sell the citizens out for their own gain. It's a fact. The US gov is out of control and they've been owned for 100 years. Giving corporations a 'person' status was created by scumbags for scumbags... look at the history. This isn't D or R--that just keeps us divided, and the talking heads on TV use this daily--this is an entire body of millionaires getting elected to further their fortune and ego. Minus a very few, they ALL need to go and we need to also rid ourselves of the ridiculous election process. One vote for everyone and the winner, wins. Popular vote.
Kim Beasley
I agree!
Laura Goldberg
Public lands are not the government's to sell! They are ours, we the people's, to enjoy and visit and receive inspiration and lovely energy from.
Judy bazzett
Couldn't agree more!!! Who do these people think they are. Example Pebble Mining company in Bristol Bay Alaska. We need more awareness of this attempted theft And the present head of the EPA. Scott Pruitt who should be titled Hater of the EPA who has an unprintable name in my humble estimation.
Paula Bourgeois
PUBLIC LANDS belong to the PUBLIC.....not anyone else.....if you have a problem understanding this....write me....I will send you a dictionary.....you have no legal right to sell them.....
Lynn Garza
Who does not understand the word PUBLIC ?? This WOULD imply that the land does NOT belong to the government , but TO THE PUBLIC , would it not ? Let's play nice .
Laurel Gress
State governments are not interested in preserving their unspoiled public lands or wildlife. They just want to sell them off to special interests who would exploit them for profit. The federal government should retain public lands in perpetuity.
Teresa Logan
Please help save our public lands.
Walter Mitterbauer
The reason why I support your afforts ist, because agreements (TTIP, CETA and others) between the USA, Canada and the European Union have the same target you fear. Big business und an powerful persons can get our public land, our water or energie or somewhat they want. That should be prevented. So it is the best for both let the way it is. Good luck for your afforts. PS.: that ist the right email
Steve wand
Leave this nations public land alone! Stop any bill to change this!
Kathy Frazier
PROTECT all public lands. No fracking. No oil. No clear cutting!
Patti
The U.S. Government (Congress) MUST NOT sell, lease or give any rights to foreign nations for any purpose, and not under any circumstances. Infrastructure, buildings, land and resources have been given for the ownership, use and profit to other nations. I believe this MUST STOP. Congress must be transparent in dealing and legislating on our country land, water, resources. AND PEOPLE need to keep their feet to the fire, always. pl 1930
David Rice
Our National Forests and Public Lands are dedicated to our American Citizens who use these Lands and it's important that these Lands be PROTECTED for the use by American Citizens and not redistricted for the furtherance of Political gain or Big Oil Hydro-fracking or Oil Production that's Polluting these Beautiful Lands! These Lands NEED TO BE PROTECTED FROM OUR FEDERAL GOVERNMENT and our POLITICAL WARRING of our NATION!
Rochelle De Forrest
“Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money.” ― Cree Indian Prophecy
Carol S
Cutting critical conservation programs like the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF)—the lifeblood for parks and open space in America for more than 50 years—is a mistake of mammoth proportions that will adversely affect all of us, but most especially our children and grandchildren. Politicians need to think about the legacy they are leaving for their future grandchildren and beyond. It seems those in power now are doing everything they can to destroy protections for our planet, our people, and our plants and animals. If they accomplish the plans that they have (many of which being legislated and passed into laws), our lives and our planet will not be sustainable. An organization called ALEC should be researched by all of you so that you can better understand what is happening.
Luana Rubin
It is very hard for young people to be optimistic about this country when the one with the most money wins, without the popular vote, and then destroys the programs that protect and nurture the citizens. Give the young people hope. Stand up for what is right. Everyone needs to speak up and become an activist, in whatever way they can manage. Don't step back and wait for someone else to protect your rights. Go out of your way to help those who are being oppressed. Stand up for the Earth, her indigenous people, and the wildlife that was there first. Humanity is on a path to self-destruction but it doesn't have to end this way. Give others permission to stand up and speak out. You'd be surprised how many people will step forward if you just tell them it is ok! #compassionispatriotic #waterislife
John Shutz
I've been following the babble spoken by our slick talking representative in Northern California, Republican Tom McClintock because one day he brought up the topic of Yosemite National Park. I shared his admiration of the park, a place both he and I have visited a number of times growing up but that is where the similarity stopped. I'm dead opposed to the Federal Government or Trump attempting to turn the natural world of Yosemite into a profit center for drilling, mining and commercial development like hotel expansion, etc. I had a daydream nightmare of seeing a high rise hotel rising above the valley floor treetops and the name emblazoned in 15' tall letters across the top floor was "Trump". As McClintock continued to discuss the status and future of Yosemite National Park I began to realize he was setting up the American people to buy into his BS that Yosemite was a financial disaster in the making, that Yosemite desparately needed infrastructure investment and justified this strategy by saying the park has to turn people away because it cannot handle the number of people wanting to visit during peak periods and according to McClintock this hurts the park financially and inconvieniences those wanting in the park. Of course, he had more to say about it, but by this time I got the message loud and clear, he is looking for a way in to commercialize the park. His standard argument contains the usual regarding the government failing to address this problem and how major infrastructure improvements will improve Yosemite's solvency in the future and enable more people to visit. This may sound sensible to many people, but I wouldn't trust McClintock as far as I could throw him. The ulterior motive here is exactly the lead up to handing over the management of Yosemite National Park to private interests, in other words, the Republicans magic word, "privatize". Privatize means many things, when it comes to our natural wonders and eco-systems, it only means one thing, exploitation of natural resources and maximizing profit through commercialization of the park. I have that iconic photo of John Muir and President Roosevelt standing on the big rock that juts out from Glacier Point, I don't know how far it is straight down to the valley floor, but it was a perfect spot for these two fine gentlemen to exclaim Yosemite is a magical place and it should be preserved in it's natural state forever. If either John Muir or President Roosevelt heard what McClintock was planning, there would be hell to pay in Teddy's case, I'm sure he would have yielded his "big stick" and knocked some sense into this poor excuse of a representative, one who has decided to undermine the spirit and intentions why Yosemite was designated a national park in the first place. It has nothing to do with sympathy to those who show up at the park ranger's station and learn the park is closed, this scenario is fuel in McClintock's strategy to commercialize the park to allow increased numbers of people flowing into the park. A lot has been said about this topic and it boils down to the fact unrestricted human traffic even with good intentions is loving the park to death. I have visited Yosemite maybe ten times in my lifetime, from a one day to one week camping trips. I hiked up the backside to the top of Half Dome twice so I guess you can say I like the place ( a lot). But, over the years most of the problems were associated with too many people inside the park with the negatives that comes with that, mainly air pollution, service issues and increased law enforcement activity. For those that decide to take a day trip without planning ahead and then get pissed off they are denied entrance, they are the ones who side with McClintock, his base and as far as I'm concerned, too bad. I was turned away once for the same reasons, I knew it was a roll of the dice since it was peak season that I might not get in, so when I got the word it was no big deal because I have also been in the park when it was jammed with people. I found the experience as negative as being stuck on the 405 in LA during commute hour, so when I got turned away I actually felt OK since I would not be subjected to the unnatural experience of being in a beautiful place, but now soiled by masses of people. People go there for many reasons, a big one is not to be in the middle of a human traffic jam. McClintock wants to go all in knowing him. He would like nothing better than to relieve much of the wilderness areas around Yosemite and turn them over to the devices of oil and gas exploration, logging, mining and again full on resort type hotels, shops, maybe a few thrill rides thrown in to boot. He could give a damn about preservation, it's about accommodation and enrichment. The enrichment part comes from those special interests donating to his re-election funds because you know, quid pro quo is alive and well within the Republican Party. Nothing wrong with returning a favor, however, where it has gone horribly wrong with this administration is the moral disconnect regarding ethics. I venture to say several of McClintock's colleagues in congress have already gone down that corrupt and treasonous path by interacting beyond what is considered above board and ethical. A look inside Kevin Nunes couzy relationship with Russian contacts, even business related explains why he secretly ran confidential Russian related information over to the White House outside of his own house investigative committee to which he plays the coyote and the White House is the hen house. He then recuses himself then un-recuses himself and clearly is making every effort to dismantle and block anything that puts Trump in a compromising position. Nunes is laughable to listen to and I hope his type goes away when people go to the poles later this year. The same goes for another right wing Russian sympathizer, Dana Rohrabacher, a typical Republican California central valley talking point master. He is a shady person with rumors of financial deals involving the Russians as well. Then of course you have Darryl "ops, I messed up again" Issa. A multi time guest of police departments for stuff like car theft and arson. However, in today's Republican Party, ethics, fiscal responsibility and morality are no longer on the Republican agenda, replaced by enrichment, greed and spineless behavior. Take your pick, these four are just you typical anti-science co-conspirators that team up frequently to get their stories straight. Issa was the king of congressional abuse of power and arrogance and myself and the majority of others are glad he's opting not to run and truth be told, he's up to his old tricks again, this time caught doing what Trump openly does and that is use his position to enrich himself and do so surreptitiously. On the one hand, his best cover trick for a scheme like that is to over react publicly as an advocate of government transparency, but the other is performing "sleight of hand" distraction. Issa knows what the term, "caught red handed" means, as noted he has priors for that, in fact I worked very close to where he pulled off the stolen car scam in San Jose, California and for that he was more or less labeled as "dirty". But it's not shocking nor surprising coming from people like Issa or Trump, the only problem are those two clowns continue to lower the bar on bad, criminal, and unethical behavior under the color of their government positions. So much so anyone following in their footsteps, notwithstanding Trump's child like rants, there is perceived expectation for the next person to outdo his predecessor in the who is the bigger fool contest. My guess the public will have a lower level of acceptance for these described traits, so anything done short of the new low bar is a free pass and maybe they can even go above it and still not be held accountable. You can get away with bald face lies and other outrageous things, even Trump admitted during the campaign he could shoot someone dead on 5th Ave and get away with it. The public is numbed by chaos and psychological torture when it comes to Trump's stupidity and ignorance, Issa performs on a different level, but shares common traits with Trump. Not a day has gone by in the last year that some drama about Trump and his antics are revealed. I honestly believe he is affecting my mental and physical health. For the first time in our lives we have seriously thought about trying to immigrate to another country, if I were younger I would go for it. What compounds this anxiety are the spineless actions or rather inactions by the Republican Congress with their continuing public support of him and his clown car cabinet. Man, they don't serve the people, Trump and his cronies are too self-absorbed to do otherwise. It's disgusting.
L E Payne
keep public lands...PUBLIC
Cathy Fuller
Public lands are 'of and for the people ' ! Our government does not have the right to sell them off or destroy them and the wildlife that live on them! Yet they are. We all need to fight for the wildlife and lands now before it's too late.
Tracy Weston Ladnow
Congressman Reichart our public lands (which you should know being from Washington) belong to all of us. Keep these lands public and finally do something for the state you represent vs. standing political lines which is all you do. We are watching your voting so you are on notice since you will not meet with us in person....... we know your voting. Keep public lands public!!!!!
Michele
Why is this what the public has to fight for? Say least Obama tried to doright this one now has been a battle to have them leave&defend our public lands. Shame on you
becky whisnant
protect public lands
Greg Nicholas
Protect us from Corporatization of OUR Public Lands that are not for sale. Start by voting no on HR 3650.
Joshua McDaniel
Keep Americas public land ,public and free. Otherwise what the hell are we living for? Stand up against greed.
Anonymous
It seems to me that the only way to protect the common good (which is part of what government is supposed to do) is to take money out of politics. Everyone running for office gets equal funding and no more to spend to spread the message. Several months, not years of campaigning, no PACs, no corporate lobbyists. Against the law for money to influence policy. Honest debate, education, and voting to determine our destiny. Rule of law, rule of common good. Otherwise every issue before the Congress will go the way of Trump.
Anne Terry
Our lands and water are now at the forefront of slowing climate change. Every inch, every foot, every acre of land and our waters supply out atmosphere, cleanse the air we breathe, and plays a critical role in slowing and preventing droughts and floods. There is no rationale for intruding on these lands. We have the technology to move into the future without devastating our resources, without clear cutting forests, without letting Nestle, as one example, bottle our water. Even Africa is coming around more than the United States. A Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai, founded the 10,000 Tress movement to combat the deforestation in Kenya and resulting climate change, drought, and horrific soil erosion. Green Energy Africa promotes and provides individual solar units for household to stop deforestation and pollution of lands and water. New plastic and trash collection on a huge scale for the oceans is going forward. But the United States is NOT LEADING. Everything in the United States is for sale.
Charlotte Utterback
I am from a small town in Missouri, born in Mo. and lived here all my life. I am hoping that our gov. will not ruin the public lands in this country! The rural areas are not fit for families to live in many places due to the CAFOS being built near many family farms! Such a shame that you don't step up to the plate and stop these! Properties around these places all depreciate in value bad! The rivers are getting polluted, drinking water is polluted, good farm ground becomes unfit for growing gardens and crops! The commissioners in Monroe county recently gave permission to build a hog CAFO in a pristine area near Madison, Mo. Neighbors were not notified it was coming until they started construction on it. That is underhanded and sneaky, they showed no common decency in doing this! Young families live in nice homes down that country road near the river that runs into Salt River from which a large part of the areas drinking comes from! Not to mention it is near two lovely, active country churches and a conservation area also! This is only one of these inhumane, unhealthy facilities in the county. I have a relative and a friend that live near two different ones and the stench is so bad it makes them throw up! HELP must come from the White House and State governments because counties are letting them slip through the cracks! Ask any number of Cancer Specialists how healthy they are to live by! You will find they are one of the biggest contributors to cancer in the state of Mo. Contact Dr. John IKerd to learn more and also Socially Responsible Agriculture Project! Sad to expose young families to this inhumane factory! Sincerely, Charlotte Utterback
James K Hadcroft
Public lands are for Public use. They have been set aside for Public use. And thanks to dictionary.com here is what that means. Public is an adjective: 1. of, relating to, or affecting a population or a community as a whole: public funds; a public nuisance. 2. done, made, acting, etc., for the community as a whole: public prosecution. 3. open to all persons: a public meeting. 4. of, relating to, or being in the service of a community or nation, especially as a government officer: a public official. 5. maintained at the public expense and under public control: a public library; a public road. 6. generally known: The fact became public. 7. familiar to the public; prominent: public figures. 8. open to the view of all; existing or conducted in public: a public dispute. 9. pertaining or devoted to the welfare or well-being of the community: public spirit. 10. of or relating to all humankind; universal. noun 1. the people constituting a community, state, or nation. 2. a particular group of people with a common interest, aim, etc.: the book-buying public. 3. British Informal. a tavern; public house.
Dana Bellwether
The devastation I've seen in Mendocino County, CA, and in the southwest--from which they are still recovering, generations after careless logging--is sickening. There are areas that look as if they'd been hit by meteors: acres of bare clay, because when the vegetation was wiped out, the topsoil soon followed.

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