|Image Courtesy of Jason Tucker|
What do I know of public lands? I live in the east where the concept of wide-open spaces, owned by us all, is a beautiful abstraction. A concept to be envied and cherished and protected, but an abstraction just the same. Yes, we have our parks, but they pale by comparison to the western expanses. So when Jason Tucker suggested to the outdoor blogging community that we designate yesterday, September 13th, as Public Lands Proud Blog-In Day, I enthusiastically responded, I’m in. And I was, until I sat down to write my piece and discovered that I had little worth saying.
Our world is full of people who thump their chests and bellow loudly in platitudes based only on intractable opinions with little to no fact. They might be right, they might be wrong, but without substance it doesn't much matter. I try not to be one of them. So as the Blog-In arrived I decided that I’d wait a day and do what no one seems to do anymore. Instead of speaking, I would listen.
Here’s a small sample of what I heard:
... we are the only developed nation on the planet that still has wild lands; that has game available to anyone willing to buy a license and has places for people to go and enjoy nature in it’s honest, naked and raw form. For kids to learn, vacations to be had and memories created. We aren’t perfect but we are pretty damn good.
Now there is a movement afoot to destroy that system. Washington DC is careening down the path of turning over Federal Public Lands to the states in a thinly veiled attempt to force their sale. My own local Senator responded to my request for an interview that the transfer of land was a necessary step to reducing government spending and balancing the budget. This transfer of Federally held land to the states has always met with the land being sold for resource extraction of development. In fact, the number of acres of State owned public land has shrunk almost 90% in some states.
While environmental groups, sportsman groups and a number of other organizations have come out against the proposed transfer, only a massive public outcry will divert Washington from it’s current trajectory...
My younger brothers wore hand-me-downs... It occurred to me this spring that the Superior National Forest — a name so familiar that I had to rediscover it — is four million acres of open public land. I’d been hunting and fishing within a tiny part of the southwest corner of it my entire life. I bought a paper Forest Service map. It’s four feet by six feet, both sides. It’s like the sun rose from behind a mountain, illuminating an entire kingdom I’d not known was there. That’s one hell of a hand-me-down.
The anti-public lands movement has never been about giving average American citizens more land or more access or more timber or gold or grass. From day one--as soon as the first lands were set aside—the movement has been about getting as much of the commonwealth as possible into the hands of the best connected and the most well heeled...
Western states have been selling their lands since they were awarded them at statehood. New Mexico has sold off 4 million of its original 13 million acres. Nevada, awarded 2.7 million acres at statehood, has 3000 acres left. Montana has sold 800,000 acres of state lands so far. Idaho has sold 1.2 million acres. Colorado has sold 1.7 million acres. Arizona has sold off 1.7 million acres...
When citizens forget what it is they fight for, things do change. They change big time, and for the worse...
It’s hard to discuss this issue without appearing partisan. While opposition to the land heist is bipartisan, support for it comes exclusively from Republican lawmakers, and the corporations which fund them...
According to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel, who has spoken out strongly against the heist, states couldn’t even afford the annual firefighting budget such large tracts of land require, positively guaranteeing their sale to private interests.
That night, my son and I sat in camp amid the enclosing dark pines—a glittering canopy of stars overhead—and talked and laughed and connected in a way we hadn’t for a long time.
While the true nature of public lands remains an aesthetic to me, simply knowing that they exist, and why, makes me sure that they need protection. From a purely practical standpoint, turning public into private usually screws the public. It’s the nature of our insatiable greedbeast.
Having read what my peers have so passionately and eloquently expressed, I am even more in love with the abstraction and more certain that the reality needs to remain. So I’m here, a day late, to echo yesterday’s voices and, hopefully, to keep the conversation going. To keep the fight alive. The idea that I own a piece of this beautiful thing and that I, and my grandchildren, might one day partake of its wonders, fills me with optimism.
Now I ask you to do what I have done. Listen. Do your homework. Understand who’s grabbing your land for personal gain and who’s protecting it for all of us. And, most importantly, armed with that knowledge, take your conclusions to the polls this November. Vote for your land.
For when the smoke finally clears, what do you want the day after to look like?