The Value of Protecting the West’s Public Lands
Like President Teddy said... Public Lands are for the Good of All
From overheated standoffs in Nevada and Oregon of 2015 and ’16, to the U.S’ National Park’s 100th anniversary celebrations, to the various attention grabbing animal encounters happening this summer in New Mexico and Wyoming, and to the increased interest from some western state’s to convert some Federal land over the state run management; issues surrounding America’s Public Lands have been making a lot of headlines lately.
But, if you’re not from one of the 12 western states, you may not know what “Public Land” is or why it even has it’s own holiday in late September. You may also not be aware of the increasing threat they face as a valuable resource to America’s economy, and to our collective sanity through the open and inspiring spaces they create for camping, hiking, exploring, adventuring, mountain biking, kayaking… and so on… pick your recreational interest.
So what exactly are Public Lands and why are they so special? Public Lands are governmentally owned plots of land and they can come in a huge variety of sizes, uses, & owners. They can be as small and simple as your local city park or as big and significant as a giant Wilderness Area or National Park like Yosemite or Yellowstone. For land that is Federally managed by the US Government, that means that these lands are held in trust for the American people by a federal agency and can come in the form of a US National Forest, Bureau of Land Management (better known simply as the BLM), Bureau of Reclamation, National Grassland, Wilderness Area, National Recreation Area, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park, Fish & Wildlife, and so on.
The idea for public, entrusted, and shared land that isn’t a ‘park’ (we can thank President Abraham Lincoln for that invention) comes from three conservationist visionaries: President Teddy Roosevelt (born in 1858), Gifford Pinchot (born in 1865) and none other than John Muir himself (born in Scotland in 1838). Together, the three of them tackled the foes of “conservation” in their day. Before Teddy’s time, the concept of Public Land was radically different. Originally, Americans saw Public Land as a vast and untapped resource that was designed by destiny for the sole purpose of revenue extraction. Whether it was from forestry resources, mineral resources or agricultural resources – Public Land wasn’t really for Public use… it was for private enterprise.
When it came to the issue of Nationalizing the US’ forest resources, the three men were painted as wide eyed east coast sissies out on a working holiday and proclaiming their high minded talk of forest preservation, conservation, and protection belonged out east where people wore white cotton gloves sipping tea and mingled with other tuxedo wearing party-goers. But despite the bitter divide between President Teddy and the industrializing entrepreneurs of the west, he stayed strong to his commitment to natural resource preservation. Teddy went out on a big limb when he declared that the “rights of the public to national resource outweigh private rights,” and that “the forest preserves should be set apart forever for the use and benefit of our people as a whole and not sacrificed to the shortsighted greed of a few.” These were wildly innovative ideas in a rapidly evolving time.
Since the last turn of the century, Public Lands have become an important, integrated piece of identity for many of the people of the Western States. Depending on which western state you visit, Federally managed lands can be as small as 25% of a state’s total land area (as in Washington) or as much as 75% (as in Idaho or Nevada).
So what’s changed lately and why are these lands threatened? Special Interest Lobbying groups representing clients in a variety of industries, are once again vying for greater influence over local lands through thinly veiled winks & nods towards businesses that would pick up the land and emphasize resource extractive uses. This public land heist threatens hundreds of millions of acres of national forests, rangelands, wildlife refuges, parks, wilderness areas, and historic sites, but it also threatens the fundamental American notion that our public lands belong to everyone. Overall, it’s a highly contested issue with partisanship and politics playing a key role in voting on key pieces of legislation. The catch is, when a state owns land, it no longer belongs to the public. It can be sold off, developed, exploited, or turned into private real estate. States have no obligation to involve the public in these decisions. Last year, 35 bills were introduced to seize and sell off public lands in 11 western states.
What can you do? Well there’s a lot actually…
The first and most important thing you can do is done – and that was read and learn about the value that our Public Lands bring to everyone. Nice job – check! Second thing you can do is go here and sign the petition to protect the nation’s Federally managed Public Lands. Third, and just as important, is to go and use those lands. Go adventuring, go camping, go climbing, go rafting, go everywhere and fill up the parking lots for trailheads. Make yourselves visible and make yourselves known.
Join The Effort On Social To #ProtectPublicLands
Join in the effort to share what you love about public lands on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter with the hashtag #ProtectPublicLands. And check out below who is posting about this issue — professional athletes, big companies, small companies, and people who are just passionate about adventure. Share your thoughts and have your say.