Public lands are held in trust and managed for the people by federal, state, and local government agencies. They go by a variety of names, including parks, monuments, historic sites, seashores, battlefields, forests, wilderness areas, refuges or grasslands. Public lands are part of our collective natural and cultural heritage, and everyone derives benefit from them. They provide outdoor recreation, wildlife habitat, wilderness experiences, and opportunities for learning about our history and cultures.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
 
The majority of public lands in the United States are held by the federal government and managed by the Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, Bureau of Reclamation, or the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Department of the Interior, or the U.S. Forest Service under the Department of Agriculture. Other federal agencies that manage public lands include the United States Department of Defense, which includes the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
 
All of these are terms for nonprofit organizations that support public lands in a variety of ways.
 
A cooperating association is defined as an organization working in partnership with a public lands agency to provide interpretive and educational services to the public; and to support the educational outreach and research activities of the agency. This is accomplished through bookstore sales, membership support, book and publication development, research funding and other educational programs and activities. The term is used by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The term is synonymous with interpretive association, used by the U.S. Forest Service. Some state park systems use these terms as well. Cooperating/interpretive associations are diverse in their scope, ranging from those with a single sales facility to many outlets, and from working with one government agency to many.
 
Friends Groups are nonprofit organizations that partner with public lands agencies to accomplish activities that typically benefit a specific park or public lands area. Groups vary in size, structure, and purpose and perform services that may include providing volunteer support, assisting with resource management and preservation, conducting fundraising efforts, and publicizing important issues. Funding to support the activities of the group come from donations, and often to a lesser extent, earned income. 
 
While some friends groups also function as cooperating associations, the two terms are not interchangeable, as the authority to operating interpretive sales outlets on public lands is governed by specific agreements and authorities. Likewise, the ability of a nonprofit organization to raise funds in support of parks and public lands is also governed by specific agreements with their public lands agency partners.
 
Yes, many national, regional and local organizations also support public lands in a variety of ways. These include natural, cultural and historic preservation groups; conservation organizations; educational organizations; field institutes or field schools; trails groups; recreational organizations; youth service organizations; professional societies and advocacy groups.
 
Nonprofit organizations that are site-specific and have a partnership agreement with one or more public lands agencies may apply to join APPL as nonprofit members. Those nonprofit organizations that are national or regional in scope and have a mission consistent with that of APPL, may join our association as Nonprofit Allies. For additional information on APPL membership, click here.
 
Where can I find more information about starting or expanding our cooperating association, interpretive association, friends group, or other like-mission nonprofit on federal public lands?
APPL provides a wealth of information to its member organizations through our Listserv, educational programs and resources, and our annual partnership convention and trade show. To learn more about APPL membership, click here. To learn about this year’s convention, click here.
 
Federal nonprofit agencies also have their own partnership resources and Websites that provide information for nonprofit organizations. For further information on each of these agencys and their partnership Web sites, please visit the following:

Can businesses provide services on public lands?
Yes, public lands agencies contract with commercial service operators, typically known as concessioners or lessees, to provide necessary and/or appropriate visitor services such as food, lodging, recreational services and retail operations. They have a signed contract, lease, or commercial use authorization that has typically been issued subject to a competitive bidding process. 

Businesses interested in working with a public lands agency should contact the agency’s commercial services division directly.  While many APPL member organizations have positive and collaborative relationships with concessioners serving the same public lands agencies, APPL does not offer membership or training programs for concessioners.
 
Businesses that provide products and services that support the mission of APPL’s members can participate in APPL’s Vendor Support Program (VSP). Participants in the VSP program receive year-round opportunities to link with and communicate product information of interest to APPL’s members; and also receive discounts for exhibiting at the annual APPL Partnership Convention and Trade Show. For information on the VSP program, click here.