An open letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke
© Getty Images

To Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, 

The people of the United States share equally in the ownership of our national public lands. We are united by a deep love for our parks, forests, mountains, prairies, deserts and waterways.

This connection and sense of ownership is something that sets us apart from the rest of the world. Public lands keep America healthy, vibrant and connected to our outdoor passions. They’re also the grounding force for our outdoor recreation economy, providing more than 7 million sustainable jobs.

I believe you share this view of public lands. And in a few short days, your recommendation to the president will determine their future. 

One month ago, you asked the American public to share thoughts about our national monuments — places that presidents from both parties have protected for more than 100 years, thanks to the vision of Teddy Roosevelt.

Your invitation has succeeded in unleashing an unprecedented groundswell of love for our public lands. Hundreds of thousands have written to you. Even more have joined the conversation through social media. Our employees have appealed to you en masse to protect the foundation of their livelihoods. 


Thank you for giving citizens a chance to raise their collective voice. From rural towns to urban centers, the clear, overwhelming majority of American people want our public lands protected. Roosevelt and those who have followed his inspiration would be proud. By all estimates, the vast majority of comments submitted support public lands and national monuments and want them untouched.


This support cannot be ignored.

For economic, environmental, recreational and historical reasons, people everywhere want their children to have the same experiences and opportunities they have enjoyed. The Department of the Interior now has a rock-solid case for building on and investing in our national public lands infrastructure even further. You have license to end this discussion about preserving monuments, and to move the conversation into how we can fund the enormous backlog in maintenance, manage wildfires and enable more Americans to access these amazing places.

I write as the chief executive of REI, and as someone who works every day with outdoor businesses large and small, rural and urban. This industry employs millions of Americans, provides nearly $125 billion in tax revenue and generates $887 billion in consumer spending every year. These numbers dwarf what Americans spend on gasoline, cars or pharmaceuticals.

I’m asking you to follow both your heart and your head. Listen to the people who love the outdoors. Tread in the footsteps of the leaders who created our national public lands, leaders that both you and I admire. Builders with vision and determination, inspired to make America a country where everyone can pursue their outdoor passions, where the many and often immeasurable benefits of public lands are not enjoyed by the few, but by the many.

Please join us in our united efforts to leave our public lands stronger, for generations to come. Thank you.

Jerry Stritzke is president and CEO of REI, an American specialty outdoor retailer and the nation’s largest cooperative.


The views of contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.