In an increasingly crowded and pay-to-play world, America’s 640 million acres of public lands – including our national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands–have become the nation’s mightiest hunting and fishing strongholds. This is especially true in the West, where according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 72 percent of sportsmen depend on access to public lands for hunting. Without these vast expanses of prairie and sagebrush, foothills and towering peaks, the traditions of hunting and fishing as we have known them for the past century would be lost. Gone also would be a very basic American value: the unique and abundant freedom we’ve known for all of us, rich and poor and in-between, to experience our undeveloped and wild spaces, natural wonders, wildlife and waters, and the assets that have made life and citizenship in our country the envy of the world.
In Part Eight of our series, we stop in at Utah’s Book Cliffs.
Stretching almost 200 miles from Price, Utah, to Palisades, Colorado, the Book Cliffs comprise the longest continuous escarpment in the world. High plateaus of ponderosa pines, firs, and aspen groves, and staggered lines of towering cliffs and isolated canyons, open out onto arid plains. Because the terrain and the vegetation changes so much with altitude, it is near-perfect mule deer and elk country, where summer range and winter range are closely connected.
When American sportsmen began restoring the wildlife lost during the settlement of the West, it was BLM public lands like those in the Book Cliffs that made the experiment the most successful wildlife recovery on earth. Today, there’s a limited draw hunt for trophy elk and mule deer here. Colorado River cutthroat trout, wild bison, and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have been restored, and pronghorn numbers are strong. All of these success stories were written almost entirely using sportsmen’s dollars on healthy public lands accessible to all Americans.
In 2012, the Utah legislature passed H.B. 148, “Transfer of Public Lands Act and Related Study,” a demand for 31 million acres of public lands like those in the Book Cliffs to be given to the state. You see, the cliffs are also a rich source of natural gas, coal, oil, helium, and potentially new reserves of oil.
Energy development under federal management has already been extensive enough here to pose real threats to big game and other wildlife resources. Federal management under the principles of multiple-use and sustained yield has forced the BLM to create management plans that at least lessen the impact of development on wildlife.
As reported in a recent Utah study, the transfer of public lands would mean that the state would face huge new expenses for land management—an estimated $280 million per year. Utah has already sold 4.1 million of the 7.5 million acres it was granted at statehood, and millions of acres of the most valuable public lands could still be sold to foreign companies and billionaires, cutting off public access forever. If the state were to retain energy-rich lands like the Book Cliffs, it would need to aggressively develop mineral resources in order to cover the enormous costs associated with the management of its other lands. Energy-producing landscapes like the Book Cliffs would be industrialized at a scale that far exceeds levels under federal management, leaving nothing behind worth accessing.
Utah remains the epicenter of the land seizure movement, and two bills were passed during the 2015 state legislative session that are aimed at undermining America’s public lands heritage. Fortunately, Utah’s fervor for public lands seizure is not matched in most other states, and sportsmen will continue working to keep it that way.
Stay tuned. In the rest of this 10-part series, we’ll continue to cover some of America’s finest hunting and fishing destinations that could be permanently seized from the public if politicians have their way.