Our government relations director reflects on the value of America’s public lands in a world that seems to grow increasingly dangerous
(Originally published in March 2016.)
Monday morning, when I started to write this blog, it was a straightforward task. I set out to explain that Congressman Don Young of Alaska has introduced legislation that would permit the sale of millions of acres of National Forest System lands to the states. The idea of selling off public lands is something I’ve spent the last 15 months of my professional life vigorously opposing on Capitol Hill, and Young’s bill is the most tangible example of this awful idea we’ve yet seen here in the nation’s capital.
In allowing each state to buy up to two million acres of national forest land to be managed strictly for timber production, this bill goes against everything the TRCP stands for. These lands would no longer retain their current ‘multiple use’ mandate, and as such, the needs of fish and wildlife would factor little into the management of these lands. The bill makes no mention of maintaining public access, nor does it require the states to retain title once they purchase the land, clearing the way for sale to private entities.
It’s a bill so egregious that it’s easy to take umbrage, but then my dander rises easily to the occasion of writing an angry blog.
However, just after lunch, I left the half-written blog open on my computer, put on my suit coat, and took a taxi through peak cherry blossom traffic to the House of Representatives for a meeting with a member of the Natural Resources Committee. We were scheduled to talk about this very bill, this extremely bad idea to commoditize the conservation legacy of a man whose face adorns Mount Rushmore and my business card.
As the meeting was about to start, a shelter-in-place call cackled over the alert radio that hangs, usually in silence, on the wall of every Congressional office. Earlier that day, Capitol Police had taken the opportunity provided by the Congressional recess to run an emergency drill of the alert system, so staff assumed that this was a continuation of those activities. But then the radio lit up again. “This is not a drill” and “shots fired” were words that mixed with the growing volume of sirens outside, heightening the gravity of what started as just another Hill meeting. Later it became clear that a man had pulled a gun on a police officer in the Capitol Visitor Center, where we’d held a meeting of our partners just a few months ago.
Headlines from across the globe continue to grow increasingly worrisome, and terror has become a palpable threat, something we see in some form or another, it seems, almost every day. But it occurred to me, as I saw the very building I was sitting in appear on CNN, that our American identity is the antidote to terrorism—and our public lands represent an important part of that identity.
America’s public lands stand ever-ready to provide a needed dose of freedom to her people. They are places to reconnect the dots of life that have grown increasingly scattered. To lay aside, if only for a short time, our crowded lives, and watch a Llewellin setter named Julep as she works a low draw with unbounded enthusiasm before coming to a rigid stop and a firm point. To watch the poetry of a sharp-tailed grouse exploding from tight cover.
There is freedom from fear in these places, where our souls have long gone to do their healing, if only in knowing that the outdoors is there for us.
If today’s hunters and anglers can succeed in grasping the mantel of leadership handed to us by George Bird Grinnell, Theodore Roosevelt, Aldo Leopold, Jim Range, and countless others, our public lands legacy of freedom and liberty will long persist. And ideas like Rep. Young’s will be dismissed out of hand for what they are: short-sighted and counterproductive. And by our united voice we will ensure that our public lands, this unique embodiment of independence, will long endure.
UPDATE: The Young bill may have failed, but there are new threats to our public lands and outdoor traditions. Take action today.