Photo and Text By BRANDON BUTLER
You own some amazing land. You own mountains, deserts, prairies, plains, river-bottoms, woodlands and more. Out west, in states like Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, there are hundreds of millions of acres of federal public lands that you, as an American, own.
But you won’t for much longer if private sector, special interest groups have their way.
“America’s 640 million acres of federal public lands provide irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat and public access for hunting and fishing,” said Joel Webster, director of the TRCP Center for Western Lands.
“Millions of American sportsmen use these lands each year to spend time with our families, challenge ourselves physically and put food on our tables. In fact, more than 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these lands for access to hunting.”
While 72 percent of Western sportsmen depend on these public lands, so do a lot of Eastern sportsmen. Today, if you want to go elk hunting in Wyoming, you draw a tag and go. When you show up to your unit, you don’t have to check in. To go hunting on National Forest or Bureau of Land Management land, you just go. It’s your land.
“Special interests in some Western states, however, are proposing that these lands be transferred to individual states,” Webster said. “Sportsmen know firsthand that the transfer of these lands to individual states is not a legitimate option for addressing public land management challenges. We are committed to keeping public lands in the public’s hands so that current and future generations of hunters and anglers can continue to access and enjoy them.”
Politics is a chess match. You have to know what your opponent is planning to do two or three moves into the future. The politicians in favor of these sales and transfers are not interested in transferring national lands to individual states so they can manage them for forest, fish and wildlife.
NOT FOR CONSERVATION
They know that at the state level, they can control legislation that opens these lands up for whatever they wish to do with them. And you can place a real safe bet that it’s not the conservation value of these lands their interested in.
“Our business is located in the West because of public lands,” said Catie Webster, who manages public relations and brand strategy for Mystery Ranch, a Bozeman, Montana-based gear manufacturer. “Mystery Ranch’s customers rely on America’s public lands for access to mountains, lakes and rivers in order to pursue their outdoor passions. Like so many other companies in the outdoor industry, public lands inspire our products and our customers. The transfer or sale of public lands would deal a blow to our business and America’s $640 billion outdoor recreation economy.”
In order to protect you and I from having our public lands stolen away by special interests, a number of sportsmen’s groups and industry members have banded together to fight against the transfer or sale America’s federal public lands.
The rapidly growing coalition is called Sportsmen’s Access. Groups and businesses supporting Sportsmen’s Access include the National Wild Turkey Federation, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Pheasants Forever, Quail Forever, Trout Unlimited, Dallas Safari Club, Mystery Ranch Backpacks, Sitka Gear, First Lite, Simms Fishing Products and Sage.
The coalition supports a grassroots effort by sportsmen to urge lawmakers to reject any actions that would deprive citizens of their public lands. The website is sportsmensaccess.org.
“Public lands are the cornerstone of our outdoor heritage,” concluded Harrison. “Our forefathers protected them for us, and now it’s our duty to do the same.”
Brandon Butler is executive director of the Conservation Federation of Missouri.