Protecting our public lands is not a partisan issue

America’s shared public lands have always been a beloved and special part of our heritage, no matter our political sway. All of us enjoy the natural benefits wilderness has to offer -- from clean air and drinking water to places to recreate and enjoy the peace and quiet of nature.

Which is why when National Review published an article against preserving our shared public lands, Jim DiPeso -- Policy Director at Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) -- came out in favor of protecting our natural heritage.

Jim’s letter below is an example of the unifying spirit our public lands represent. His letter makes clear that whether you are Republican, Democrat, Independent or other, protecting our shared public lands transcend all politics:

Deroy Murdock's tirade against public lands – the common birthright of every American citizen - was an excursion in misrepresentation and fearmongering.

We who support protecting and conserving America's natural heritage, we who see the value of experiencing our lands as our ancestors experienced them, have heard it all before.

Over the years, hucksters who can't stand the thought that some forests will remain standing, some rivers will remain undammed, and some mountains will be kept free of shovels, noise and draglines, unmonetized and unsullied by commercialization, have repeatedly dressed up their grubby agendas in grand accusations that holding land in common for all Americans is a socialist plot.

Murdock calls for turning over public lands to "more effective managers, who, then, increase revenues and generate profits."

We know what the consequence of that would likely be and so did Theodore Roosevelt when he protected tens of millions of acres of forests, mountains, and grasslands to prevent, as he put it, "an unprincipled present-day minority from wasting the heritage of these unborn generations." Roosevelt protected land, not to keep Americans out, but to keep America strong. "Conservation is a great moral issue, for it involves the patriotic duty of insuring the safety and continuance of the nation," he declared 100 years ago.

Murdock dusts off the tiresome charge that the Antiquities Act is somehow a federal land grab. The Antiquities Act applies only to federal lands. How can the federal government grab land that is already part of the federal estate, some since the Louisiana Purchase more than two centuries ago?

Far from a land grab, the Antiquities Act is an effective conservation tool that has saved significant examples of our heritage from the wastrels that every generation produces. Since 1906, 15 presidents from both parties have used the Antiquities Act to grant immediate protection to natural and historical treasures at risk from exploiters. Most recently, George W. Bush carried on that tradition when he invoked the law to establish more than 200 million acres of marine reserves to protect wildlife, archaeological treasures, and unusual natural formations.

Yet another of Murdock's heard-it-all-before charges is that protecting wilderness is an affront to freedom. Not true if one embraces the broader concept of freedom that Ronald Reagan described when he wrote in 1988: "The preservation of parks, wilderness, and wildlife has also aided liberty by keeping alive the 19th century sense of adventure and awe with which our forefathers greeted the American West."

A wilderness experience, which everyone can enjoy, forges an ethic of responsibility, hard work, and self-reliance. Wilderness opens a hidden dimension of freedom, far from man's transient contrivances and arrogant pretensions.

President Reagan understood those time-honored wilderness values, and that's why he signed legislation establishing more than 10 million acres of wilderness in dozens of states. For that action, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Gipper, who understood the stewardship tradition of true conservatism that many of his purported admirers have, unfortunately, forgotten.

This letter was written by Jim DiPeso, Policy Director at Republicans for Environmental Protection.