Wilderness Society Statement on Public Lands Standoff in Oregon

Jan 4, 2016
The Wilderness Society issued the following statement regarding the standoff over public lands occurring in Oregon.

Every single one of us has a right to visit and enjoy our shared parks, refuges and other public lands without fear and without threat of violence,” said Jeremy Garncarz, senior director of wildlands campaigns with The Wilderness Society.  “It is sad to see militant extremists blatantly disregard the American people and block access to our nation’s great outdoors.  This year we mark the centennial of our national parks and we should be celebrating our great outdoor legacy together as a nation.”

“The actions of armed militant extremists in Oregon puts at risk that shared national legacy, the lives of Americans who have a right to safely access and enjoy these lands and the public employees charged with taking care of them.

“Americans are passionate about our public lands and all the values they deliver to our local communities,” said Garncarz. “But using illegal force or taking government property under lockdown to make extremist political statements is inexcusable. It creates an atmosphere of fear and turns families, sportsmen and women and outdoor enthusiasts away from enjoying public lands safely.  It also threatens our democracy and our ability as citizens to engage in the important local conversations about how to take care of the resources we all share as Americans.”

Background on History of Public Lands Management

Across the west, a small number of officials are organizing to seize public lands and transfer them to state ownership, after which our national lands could be auctioned off to oil and gas special interests or sold for other development. Just last year, this threat spread to the U.S. Congress.

As public lands managed for everyone, the mountains, forests, deserts, and grasslands of the West are available to you whether you live two hours away in Wyoming or Colorado, or a 2,000-mile car-trip away in New York. But if our public lands are transferred to the control of just a single state, Americans from other states could lose access to use and enjoy those lands. When our forests, monuments, and parks are sold or privatized, we would become trespassers on our own lands.

The national public lands of the American West were acquired by the American people in the early- and mid-1800s.  The Louisiana Purchase of 1803, the 1848 cession of the Southwest that followed the Mexican-American War, and the other lands west of the Mississippi came at the great cost of bloodshed and American taxpayers' dollars.  When the United States granted statehood to new territories years later, Congress gave millions of acres to the newly admitted states to be used for specific purposes like funding schools.  Some states quickly sold many of their lands to private buyers.  In other states, the lands have been retained for revenue generation, and public access is restricted.

The United States retained other lands to be managed not just for the benefit of any one state, but for ALL Americans.  From these public lands came many of America’s most famous national parks like Yellowstone, Zion, and Rocky Mountain National Park.  Parks like these are popular travel destinations not only for residents across the country, but also for visitors from abroad, generating billions in revenue to state economies.  Our national public lands also play a critical role in providing clean drinking water for tens of millions, as well as for recreation, clean air, habitat for wildlife, and much more.

Read more about the history and validity of shared public lands here.

The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands. www.wilderness.org.    

Jeremy Garncarz, Senior Director - Wildlands, 970-247-8788, Jeremy_garncarz@tws.org
Kate Mackay, Communications Director - Wildlands, 602-571-2603, kate_mackay@tws.org