Guest opinion: Keep public lands in public hands
Our country has an incredible and unmatched protected public lands legacy that allows hunters, anglers, hikers, backpackers, outfitters, equestrians, rafters and untold numbers of others the opportunity to experience parts of our country as they were in the days of Lewis and Clark and, more recently, Theodore Roosevelt. Public lands are part of what make our state and country so unique, and an important reason why I served our country.
However, today these public lands are under attack on a number of fronts, including an anti-public lands outfit called the American Lands Council, started by Utah legislator Ken Ivory. Mr. Ivory and those like him have been spearheading the effort to encourage states (and counties) to push for turning federal public lands over to states and, ultimately, private interests.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, “Ken Ivory is a snake oil salesman … traveling around the West, enriching himself by peddling a total phantasm about how if state and local governments keep giving Ivory’s American Lands Council more money, he will find a way to undo a century of public policy, and every decent impulse of the American people, and force the United States … to turn over millions of acres of federal land to the states.”
During March, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico filed SA. 571, a budget amendment intended to quash these misguided efforts by groups like the American Lands Council. “Selling off America’s treasured lands to the highest bidder would result in a proliferation of locked gates and no-trespassing signs in places that have been open to the public and used for generations,” Heinrich said.
“This would devastate outdoor traditions like hunting, camping and fishing that are among the pillars of Western culture and a thriving outdoor recreation economy. These lands are public, which means we each have a voice in their management,” Heinrich continued. “America’s forests, wildlife refuges and conservation lands are part of the fabric of our democracy. Let’s keep them that way.”
More than 90 percent of sportsmen and -women in Colorado use public land, and hunting and fishing groups, including Trout Unlimited, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Colorado Wildlife Federation and the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, all oppose the transfer of public lands to states. In fact, more than 100 sportsmen’s groups and outdoor businesses have gone on record opposing such transfers.
In Colorado, only two counties have helped support the American Lands Council, but seven have gone on record opposing transferring ownership of federal lands. That’s because Coloradans aren’t blind to the fact that transferring ownership is the first step toward privatizing public lands, the ultimate goal of Ivory and those like him.
Whether you hunt deer in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest or elk in Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, these misguided efforts by politicians and special interests to transfer or sell the public lands we depend on to hunt, fish and recreate — robbing us of our American birthright — should be a concern.
As a veteran, it offends me that a handful of people believe they have the right to take away land that belongs to all of us. And as Medal of Honor recipient Theodore Roosevelt said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us.”
David Lien is a former Air Force officer, NRA member and chairman of the Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (http://www.backcountryhunters.org). 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.”
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