This Land is Your Land; This Land is My Land: What’s the big deal with public lands?
Public lands are a great societal equalizer, available to everyone regardless of one’s class, creed, or color. Yet this shared heritage, so unique to our country, is being attacked from fringe interests that seek to seize ownership, or worse, sell-off our public lands to the highest bidder for financial gain – putting clean water, clean air, and community health at risk.
If facts do still matter, let’s set a few straight: Numerous studies from non-partisan groups like the Headwaters Institute have shown that rural counties in the West with more public lands are performing better economically than those with less federal lands by many measures including increased per capita income and employment (see graphs). Protected federal public lands in the West can be an important economic asset that extends beyond tourism and recreation to attract people and businesses, and an elevated quality of life. And, recent polls throughout the West have shown that most Americans are in favor of keeping public lands public.
Then what is the fuss over public lands? There are a few folks who like to create stirs of controversy where there are none—or rather, they have ulterior motives in mind. For years, corporate-interest groups like the Koch brothers have forged strong ties with lobbying groups—such as American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Federalism in Action—to push state legislatures and U.S. Congress for bills to weaken protections and seizure of public lands. This is the corporate dream for privatization of the public’s resources, politically reinforced by a stubborn minority within the Republican Party. A recent example this past January, was when Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) introduced a bill to allow the sale of 3.3 million acres of public lands. He was inundated with protests from his constituents—a new generation of anglers and hunters. Chaffetz quickly withdrew his bill.
Claims of “government overreach” serves to distract the public from the thinly veiled attempt to transfer public assets to big business: oil, gas, nickel, and timber. We see many examples locally; as timber interests wanting to log clear-cut style are currently suing over the recently expansion of Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. Or how the company Veresen is attempting for the third time to build a gas pipeline across southern Oregon through the use of eminent domain, and at the expense of our waterways.
What does this mean for the public? We can’t afford to take our shared ownership of our public lands for granted. Active involvement by citizen owners of public land, can make a big difference to ensure they are managed thoughtfully for today and future generations.
So get out there! Go walking in the woods, swimming in a river, boating, hunting, fishing, marveling at wildflowers and wildlife, skiing, biking, backpacking, climbing, picnicking, bonding with your family, seek solitude, pick mushrooms and berries—these are your lands to do so!
Get involved: Stay abreast of current issues with local non-profits and tell your elected officials that public lands should stay in public hands.
Give back to your public lands: Join a local groups for an informational hike, a trash clean-up, a weed pull, or other stewardship projects.