By David Lien
September was Public Lands Month, a celebration of America’s iconic public lands and waters. Fall is also a time when hunters, anglers and other outdoorsmen and women are getting their boots dirty on the 640 million public acres that belong to all of us. Public lands contain some of the best remaining trout and salmon watersheds in the entire United States and provide millions of sportsmen and women with world-class hunting and fishing opportunities.
Here in Colorado, an estimated 90 percent of Coloradans use the 24 million acres of public lands in our state. And a survey by the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation found that 92 percent of Colorado hunters use public lands. But the threats to our public lands – including national forests, wildlife refuges and parks – are as real as ever. Some members of congress have been advocating for state or local control of federal lands, not to mention sales to private interests.
Although such transfers haven’t happened on a big scale, Ryan Busse, national board chair of the Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), says hunters and public lands advocates are now on the defensive. “I think our folks have always been very appreciative of our public lands, but they’re taking them much less for granted now that they’re coming under direct political attack.”
Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (of Utah) outlined a three-part plan to privatize our public lands. As he explained in this tweet, his plan is simple: sell off the public lands that give you unparalleled opportunities to hunt, fish and recreate.
In response to similar proposals, BHA president and CEO, Land Tawney, said: “This issue is our Second Amendment. Any attack on public lands is a non-starter for us.”
Make no mistake, these anti-public-lands legislators are making anti-hunters giddy, because the most powerful antihunting movement in the U.S. is the loss of places to hunt, fish and shoot. In the words of Northern Wilds publisher/ editor Shawn Perich (in the 1/5/18 Outdoor News): “Such politicians are a greater threat to the future of hunting and fishing than any animal rights group. Know your enemy, folks.”
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper considers our state’s public lands “spiritual and economic assets,” and says “we need more public land, not less.” Hickenlooper added: “Our protected public lands are part of what makes Colorado special.”
Similarly, Montana’s governor, Steve Bullock, said: “This ain’t about politics. Whether you’re a Democrat, or Republican, or Libertarian, or vegetarian, these lands belong to you. They’re our heritage. They’re our economy. They’re our quality of life.”
According to statistics recently released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Activity, nationwide the outdoor recreation economy accounted for 2.2 percent of GDP ($412 billion) in 2016. The oil and gas industry accounted for $162 billion in economic activity the same year, or 0.9 percent of GDP. Mining activities accounted for $61 billion or 0.3 percent of GDP.
The report also revealed that compensation for the outdoor recreation economy grew at a rate of 4.3 percent compared to 2.7 percent for the U.S. economy.
“My best days, and our country’s best values, both are found within our vast public lands,” said Ryan Busse, a Montanan. “Our shared ownership of these places and our freedom to explore them is uniquely American. Once we set foot upon this birthright, wealth, status, race, color, creed and orientation melt away, and we become one with our great country– on the same footing with every other citizen and inferior to none. There is no other equalizer like it on our planet!”
With public lands issues taking center stage in numerous races across the country, the votes of sportsmen and women represent an increasingly powerful force. Your vote is the number-one way to make sure your voice is heard – in Washington, D.C., and state legislatures across the country.
“With elections looming in the fall, both current and prospective politicians should take heed of the growing voice that is public lands sportsmen and women,” Land Tawney stated. “We hunt and we fish. And we vote public lands and waters.”
For additional information (from Outside Online) on “How to Vote for the Outdoors: Non-partisan midterm elections guidance from key environmental organizations,” see: https://www.outsideonline.com/2354171/how-vote-outdoors
David Lien is a former Air Force officer and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers. He’s the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting & Habitat Conservation” and during 2014 was recognized by Field & Stream as a “Hero of Conservation.”