Background: Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona). Credit: Romain Guy, flickr. Inset: Castle Crags Wilderness (California). Credit: Mason Cummings (TWS).
Special interest groups are trying to seize Our Wild. We have to keep it public.
America’s national forests, wildlife refuges, parks, and public lands are part of our national identity. Our public lands were created so all Americans, regardless of wealth or social status, would be able to enjoy access to the outdoors in perpetuity. That our public lands should be open to everyone to experience is one of our nation’s proudest and most sacred traditions.
The same sentiment that fueled an armed takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon has now spread into 19 states across the U.S., where our American heritage—defended by generations of bipartisan leaders—is under attack from industry-funded groups and their allies in Washington, D.C. These special interests have been lobbying state governments and Congress to seize America’s public lands so they can be privatized or auctioned for drilling, mining and logging. Learn more about threats near you.
The idea that our public lands should be open for everyone to experience is under attack by extremists and their allies in Washington, D.C.
The 2015 budget resolution in the House of Representatives expresses support for this idea: “The budget resolution supports reducing the Federal estate, and giving States and localities more control over the resources within their boundaries. This will lead to increased resource production and allow States and localities to take advantage of the benefits of increased economic activity.”
This broader anti-conservation agenda seeks to suppress Americans’ rights to access and enjoy the lands that belong to all of us—whether we live in Maine, Montana, or Mississippi.
This radical notion of locking up public lands—including national forest lands, refuges and Bureau of Land Management lands where Americans love to hike, camp, hunt and fish—would reduce the freedom to access these lands for all of us, including our children and grandchildren. Ultimately, this effort could sacrifice our most treasured parks, wilderness, and national monuments, we may find ‘no trespassing’ signs and barricades instead of open trails and scenic views.
At The Wilderness Society, we know that the American people reject these proposals. They are appalled by these types of attacks on nationally-treasured lands.
The value of public lands to all Americans
Americans overwhelmingly recognize the value of our shared parks, forests, refuges and wild spaces, from outdoor recreation to wildlife habitat to the clean water they provide to millions of households. These public lands are economically important to nearby communities as well.
Quality of life is directly connected to access to public lands, especially in the West. During the last four decades, western non-metro counties with more than 30 percent protected public land increased jobs four times faster than non-metro counties with no protected public lands. Additionally, 72 percent of voters in the West say that the presence of national public lands helps their economy, while only 6 percent say it hurts.
The costs of public land seizures
- Potential development of prized wildlands: To pay the costs of upkeep, fighting wildfires and balancing their budgets, state governments would have to raise taxes or sell off iconic national treasures to the highest bidder. In fact, Western states have already disposed of about 31 million acres of state land. If lands become privatized, access to these once-shared places may disappear. Americans from all states could lose the ability to hike, camp, fish or hunt in some of their favorite wild places.
- Burdens for state taxpayers: Forcing Western states to bear the costs of managing America’s national forests, parks, and public lands would place an extreme financial burden on Western taxpayers.
- Potential damage to other state programs: Critical services like K-12 education or law enforcement would suffer cutbacks to help pay for the new fiscal burden of managing millions of acres of public lands on state coffers.
We’ve seen this idea before, in the “sagebrush rebellions” of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a bad idea then and it’s still a bad idea today. Proponents of public lands seizures are conveniently silent about the lost access and development that will occur if public lands are taken away from the American public, but the impacts of these proposals are clear and devastating for American families and local communities that depend on $646 billion in consumer spending that comes from outdoor recreation.
Vermilion Cliffs National-Monument (Arizona). Credit: Bob Wick (BLM), flickr.
Americans overwhelmingly recognize the value of our shared parks, forests, refuges and wild spaces for recreation, wildlife habitat, scenic wonder, hunting and fishing opportunities, the clean water they provide to millions of households, and for their economic importance to nearby gateway communities.
Quality of life is directly connected to access to public lands in the West. During the last four decades western non-metro counties with more than 30 percent protected public land increased jobs four times faster than non-metro counties with no protected public lands.
America, this wild is Our Wild.
In 2014, 72 percent of voters said they consider public lands to be “American places that belong to everyone in our country” vs. places that belong more to residents of the states where those lands are found. In 2015, by more than 2:1, voters in six of the interior western states agree that public lands belong to all Americans, not just residents of a particular state.
You own these lands. They have been set aside for you and your family—to experience freedom, find respite in nature, learn about our history, and pass these wild wonders on to future generations of Americans. Let’s not allow short-sighted special interests steal that legacy from all of us, or from our children and grandchildren.
More about the land takeover threat around the country: