Local view: Protect legacy of public lands

The following Op-Ed was originally published in the Duluth New Tribune, here.

Hunters, anglers and other outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen in Minnesota have access to federal and other public lands that most of the world can only dream of: the 666,540-acre Chippewa National Forest and 4 million-acre Superior National Forest, for starters. Then there are the 13 national wildlife refuges that all told cover 359 square miles.

As a citizen of the United States, you are part owner of the largest collection of public real estate on the planet, including California’s Sierra Nevada; the redrock canyons and arid basins of Utah and Nevada; the Cascades of Oregon and Washington; the Rockies of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Montana; the tundra and rainforests of Alaska; the vast stretches of the Appalachians; and the north woods of the Midwest and New England. They belong to you. Nationwide, there are roughly 640 million acres of public lands, about 29 percent of the total U.S. land mass.

Unfortunately, there are also some politicians and others who would prefer to see our public lands transferred to states and sold off to the highest bidders. Those who want to take these lands away once called themselves Sagebrush Rebels, rebelling against the “public” in public land for the money that could be extracted by making them private. Today they’ve morphed into groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the deceptively named “Environmental Policy Alliance.” They’re anti-hunting/anti-conservation organizations controlled or funded by big-industry corporate types looking to fatten their already bursting bank accounts at the expense of everyday, hardworking Americans.

Whether you hunt deer in Minnesota’s Superior National Forest or elk in Colorado’s San Juan National Forest, the effort by fringe politicians and special interests to transfer or sell public lands that you depend on to hunt, fish and recreate — robbing us of our American birthright — should be a concern.

As Backcountry Hunters and Anglers executive director Land Tawney said, “I want you all to close your eyes and think of your favorite public land. Now think of it with a ‘no trespassing’ sign on it.”

In a recent poll of Westerners by Colorado College, just 17 percent of respondents said they supported selling significant holdings of public lands; 69 percent expressed opposition.

Another nonpartisan survey of Rocky Mountain state voters found 68 percent considered federal public lands as “American places” rather than as places that belong to the people of individual states.

Across America, the top reason hunters and anglers give up these pursuits is the loss of access to quality habitat.

In addition, many of our most highly prized big-game species, as well as some of our finest fisheries, depend primarily on public lands. Today’s outdoor families stand on the shoulders of giants like Theodore Roosevelt, Gifford Pinchot and George Bird Grinnell, sportsmen who had the vision to protect our public lands legacy more than a century ago.

Yet today, forces are at work to dismantle this legacy. Some of the same special interests vigorously protested Teddy Roosevelt when he took the lead in establishing our public estate a century ago.

As Backcountry Hunters and Anglers co-chairman Ben Long said, “People from the … hunting and fishing communities and all walks of life value our national forests as they are. We should be focusing on real solutions that benefit real … communities, not this ideologically driven nonsense.”

David Lien of Colorado Springs, Colo., and formerly of Grand Rapids, Minn., is a former Air Force officer, a life member of the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association (mndeerhunters.com), co-chairman of Minnesota Backcountry Hunters and Anglers (backcountryhunters.org), and the author of “Hunting for Experience: Tales of Hunting and Habitat Conservation.”

READ MORE: For more information about protecting our public-lands heritage for future generations, the writer of this op-ed suggests “Our Public Lands are Not For Sale,” an article from Backcountry Hunters and Anglers. It’s at http://www.backcountryhunters.org/index.php/backcountry/current-news/709-our-public-lands-are-not-for-sale

“Local view: Protect legacy of public lands.” Duluth News Tribune: 2/25/15.


About Caitlin Thompson