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Looking out on an impressive public lands vista may make you feel like a king, but the argument that America’s public lands are akin to England’s “royal forests” is completely ridiculous
On June 29, Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) addressed a conservative public policy think tank with an impassioned speech about the tyranny of the federal government and three pieces of legislation aimed at selling off and developing America’s public lands.
In this monologue, Lee equated modern-day public lands in America to feudal England’s “royal forests,” which provided game and amusement for the landed gentry while the peasants starved. In Lee’s mind, eastern elites are today’s landed gentry and the peasants are those living in states with abundant public land.
Perhaps Senator Lee should study the evolution of and philosophy behind America’s public lands system, which was created to be the exact opposite of England’s.
Theodore Roosevelt felt that all Americans should have the chance to prove themselves in the wild—as he had done after the death of his wife and his mother—and enjoy the resources that the forests, rivers, mountains, and prairies could provide. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation comes from Roosevelt’s vision and continues to govern wildlife management by several key tenets, with the most fundamental being that our fish and wildlife belong to all Americans—not governments, private landowners, or corporations—and they must be managed in a way that sustains fish and wildlife populations in perpetuity.
Each citizen has an opportunity, under the law, to hunt and fish in the United States, and we have more than 600 million acres of public lands, open to everyone, to do just that. Yet, Senator Lee laments that public lands have somehow become the play areas for a select few.
The facts offer a different story.
In Utah last year, more than 200,000 residents bought hunting licenses and the overwhelming majority of those people hunted on public lands in the state. Only about 30,000 non-resident hunting licenses were sold.
It hardly seems that Utahans are being kept from enjoying the public lands in Utah.
To the contrary, multiple studies across the West (here’s one) have shown that communities located close to public lands are more prosperous than those without public land access. Almost 75 percent of hunting in the West takes place on public lands. And, obviously, public lands are available to Americans for more than just hunting and fishing.
This is why our public lands support and are managed for multiple uses—from hunting, fishing, and other outdoor recreation opportunities to logging, energy development, and grazing. Some areas are managed as wilderness or monuments, while others are best suited for development.
This is what was intended by Roosevelt, Pinchot, and other conservation luminaries, and it is a system that has worked well. Yes, we can have debates about the management of certain parcels, but that debate is a luxury, one that does not occur in England or in U.S. states without extensive public lands.
The three bills that Sen. Lee outlined are all designed to transfer, sell off, and/or industrialize the nation’s public lands, and as usual, the argument is cloaked in the rhetoric of “states’ rights” and “economic opportunity.”
Will some people get rich if Utah’s public lands are developed? Absolutely. But at what cost?
Yes, we can have debates about the management of certain parcels of public land, but that debate is a luxury, one that does not occur in England or in U.S. states without extensive public lands.
If Lee were to succeed, the public lands that all Americans enjoy today for hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, off-road vehicle riding, and myriad other uses will certainly be off-limits. Those who were once able to challenge themselves, find restorative solitude, or make lifelong memories with family and friends in what Lee calls “land that is just sitting there, unused” will be greeted by industrial development or locked gates.
Senator Lee is correct that there are times when public lands in or near urban areas are best used for other purposes, such as affordable housing or schools. But federal law expressly permits those types of properties to be sold off with the proceeds benefiting conservation and access elsewhere. In fact, this is fresh in the minds of lawmakers, who reauthorized the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act in the omnibus spending bill in March 2018.
America’s hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts remember well when former Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced HR 621, which would have disposed of 3.3 million acres of public lands to help balance the budget, in 2017. Our community’s outcry against this provision was so strong that Rep. Chaffetz took to Instagram dressed in camo to announce that he was withdrawing his bill—and then he withdrew from Congress.
Perhaps Senator Lee needs to be reminded how much all Americans care about their public lands. He should certainly experience them firsthand and discover for himself what Theodore Roosevelt found out more than a century ago—that the privilege of access for all to wide open spaces is actually fundamental to what it is to be an American.
We are not “greedy kings” for wanting to keep our public lands public.
Send that message to your lawmakers now: Sign the petition at sportsmensaccess.org.
Then send the link to a friend who relies on public land for his or her hunting or fishing access. We have been here before and, united for public lands, we won.
Top photo by Bob Wick via flickr.
Sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelming want the federal government to provide Clean Water Act protections for headwaters and wetlands, even as the EPA and Congress work to repeal a rule that does so
Today we revealed the full results of a national bipartisan poll, which shows that sportsmen and women on both sides of the aisle overwhelming support Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands.
The majority of hunters and anglers polled (92 percent) would strengthen or maintain the federal government’s current safeguards for clean water that supports healthy fish and wildlife habitat—even as federal agencies and Congress seek to roll back these standards. Hunters and anglers showed nearly unanimous support for the 2015 Clean Water Rule, which the Trump administration’s EPA and Army Corps of Engineers have worked to repeal and replace.
Only 6 percent of sportsmen and women polled supported relaxing clean water standards. (The remaining 2 percent were unsure.) And four out of five sportsmen polled said that Clean Water Act protections should apply to headwater streams and wetlands—a point of clarification in the 2015 Clean Water Rule that many hoped would reverse a troubling trend of wetlands loss.
“The responses to our poll left little room for doubt that America’s sportsmen and women want to see an end to the unnecessary regulatory confusion over what streams and wetlands deserve Clean Water Act protections,” says Whit Fosburgh, president and CEO of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. “As we’ve been saying since the EPA and Army Corps began the process of repealing the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, any replacement rule should provide certainty for landowners and the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy that depends on access to clean water and abundant fish and wildlife.”
The poll also revealed that, while hunters and anglers already contribute heavily to conservation in America through license purchases and excise taxes on gear and ammunition, the majority (81 percent) of respondents were willing to tax themselves to improve rivers, streams, and wetlands—even tax-averse Republicans. Nearly a third of those surveyed were willing to pay $100 or more in new taxes to restore and/or maintain water quality or quantity.
Other key survey results:
The TRCP’s national survey was conducted by respected polling firm Public Opinion Strategies. They spoke to 1,000 voters who participate in hunting and fishing nationally online and over the phone this spring. Hunting and fishing are an important part of the $887-billion outdoor recreation economy that directly supports 7.6 million American jobs.
Explore hunter and angler attitudes toward other conservation issues on TRCP’s poll page.
Top photo by Jeff Weese via flickr
There’s tremendous demand for landscape-scale water conservation projects that involve farmers, ranchers, urban communities, and sportsmen—now, the program that makes these projects possible could see a boost in the 2018 Farm Bill
The Senate has passed its version of the next five-year Farm Bill with bipartisan support for conservation programs that boost America’s rural economies. There’s a lot to like in the bill, but for those of us watching drought conditions worsen in the West, one provision stands out.
The Senate Farm Bill would improve and expand the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which encourages farmers, ranchers, sportsmen, and others to work together to improve watersheds on a landscape scale. This program has already been used everywhere from the Chesapeake Bay to the Columbia River to build resiliency in the face of pollution and drought.
The RCPP program has been wildly popular in agricultural communities, but it’s easy to see how sportsmen and women also benefit from these multifaceted projects. Here in Colorado, RCPP funding went toward improving the river in a way that helped to solve a water battle with cities east of the Continental Divide and allow ranchers to draw water into irrigation structures. But, at the same time, the project improved river flows and fish habitat in the Colorado River’s gold-medal trout fishery. Another RCPP project in our state will help ranchers conserve water while improving conditions for trout in the Gunnison River.
Better fishing and bigger outdoor recreation business is easy to describe to lawmakers who have the fate of RCPP in their hands. That’s why the TRCP brought hunters and anglers from Arizona, Colorado, and Wyoming up to Capitol Hill this spring to talk to decision makers about the local benefits of landscape-scale conservation through RCPP. Here are the stories they shared.
Gib McKay, whose family owns Babbitt Ranch in Arizona, described educating Congressional staff and elected officials as a powerful responsibility. “Our job was to make sure that more than a select few people understand the urgent need for water solutions in the West,” he says. Local outdoor recreation businesses can only thrive if anglers and paddlers having suitable access to healthy waterways, and as a rancher, McKay knows too well just how critical it is to efficiently use surface and groundwater drawn from the river and shared with other Colorado River Basin states, especially in years with low snowpack.
“We work every day to ensure this limited water supply is not finite,” he says. “The Colorado River is our lifeblood and the indispensable resource that allows us to continue our stories. To conserve and care for the river is not just what we should do, it is what we must do.” And RCPP ensures that no one group has to do it alone.
Also in our delegation was Mely Whiting, one of the architects of Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Headwaters Project, which used RCPP funds to divert warm, silty water away from the Colorado River’s gold-medal trout stream and into a bypass channel. She explained to lawmakers that this project helped the region’s warring water interests to forge an important partnership, bury the hatchet, and improve fishing unlike any other single effort.
Paul Bruchez, a fishing guide and fifth-generation rancher with property that borders the Colorado, spread his message in a cowboy hat and suit. He described how the Colorado Headwaters RCPP project will help his family and their neighbors enhance irrigation practices, while strengthening the river banks and improving river flows—which is also great for his fishing clients.
“The RCPP program has allowed my family and neighboring families to comprehensively and collaboratively address the water resource problems that affect our ranches in the headwaters of the Colorado River,” says Bruchez. “These issues are too big for one ranching family to tackle. In fact, they are too big for any one sector of water users to solve. But combine 11 ranching families with conservation organizations, Front Range water providers, state and local governments, agricultural associations, and others, and we have been capable of results that would have been unheard of just ten years ago.” This is the power of the RCPP program—it creates a framework for collaboration and partnership around shared goals.
Finally, decision makers got a dose of inspiration from Jim Kuhns, a disabled veteran who learned to fly fish as part of his rehabilitation and liked fishing so much he started his own organization to give other vets the chance to build rods, tie flies, and experience the zen of casting. For Kuhns, fishing on streams improved by the Colorado Headwaters Project, as well as RCPP-funded projects in his home state of Wyoming, is a privilege. “I thought the D.C. decision makers we visited listened to our stories and let us know they appreciate our work to help veterans and improve the Colorado River.”
Their support for RCPP in the next Farm Bill could help other interested groups improve watersheds across the country.
Though the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill vary greatly, both chambers have shown confidence in the Regional Conservation Partnership Program by enhancing program funding and flexibility, even though the administration has proposed eliminating RCPP in its last two budget proposals.
After the Senate floor vote on the Farm Bill this week, Congress will meet in conference to work out the differences between their two bills. The product, we hope, will contain the very best conservation provisions for water quality and quantity, sportsmen’s access, and habitat improvements on private land before arriving on the president’s desk.
With the current Farm Bill set to expire on September 30, the pressure is on. But this is also an opportunity to make programs like RCPP work even better for sportsmen and women—we can’t afford to miss it.
Top, second, and last photo courtesy of Russ Schnitzer, Schnitzerphoto.
Editor’s note: This post was updated after the Senate vote to advance the Farm Bill.
Big wins for the hunting and fishing community are undercut by unacceptable provisions that sap long-term conservation funding and threaten headwaters, forests, and wetlands
Today the House of Representatives passed its 2018 Farm Bill, “The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018,” with a 213-211 vote. While there are some positive provisions for conservation and sportsmen’s access in the bill—the single largest source of federal conservation funding—it also includes a number of provisions that would undercut long-term conservation benefits to headwaters, forests, and wetlands.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is especially pleased to see a 25-percent increase for the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program. As the only federal program aimed at opening private land to public access, VPA-HIP is a valuable tool for increasing hunting and fishing access to sportsmen and women across the country. The funding increase provided by the House bill is a much needed step towards meeting the $150 million required to meet landowner demand for the program. To date, this successful program has opened more than 950,000 acres of private land to the public for hunting and fishing across 30 states.
But this boost for hunting and fishing access is somewhat overshadowed by the long-term cuts to conservation funding in the bill. Unmet demand for Farm Bill conservation programs is at an all-time high, and sportsmen and women believe Congress should provide increased conservation funding to meet farmer and rancher demand. Also of concern is the inclusion of an amendment which seeks to repeal the Clean Water Rule, which protects our nation’s most vulnerable waterways.
“The proposed $795 million cuts to conservation would constitute a major disservice to all taxpayers—not just hunters and anglers—whose support for agriculture should not come at the cost of clean water and healthy soil,” says Whit Fosburgh, TRCP’s president and CEO. “The Farm Bill ensures that fish and wildlife continue to thrive in and around private lands while boosting hunting and fishing opportunities and the economic health of rural America. Especially since the House bill includes many of our community’s recommendations, we would have liked to see it move forward without short-sighted funding provisions or the handful of unacceptable amendments—like a repeal of the rule that clarifies Clean Water Act protections for headwater streams and wetlands and forestry provisions that would weaken the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.”
Other positive provisions overshadowed by cuts to conservation include:
Should the Senate follow suit and successfully pass their bill in the coming weeks, the TRCP and its Agriculture and Wildlife Working Group will work to ensure the best provisions of each chamber’s proposal are included in the final legislation.
Photo courtesy of Northwoods Collective.
Theodore Roosevelt’s experiences hunting and fishing certainly fueled his passion for conservation, but it seems that a passion for coffee may have powered his mornings. In fact, Roosevelt’s son once said that his father’s coffee cup was “more in the nature of a bathtub.” TRCP has partnered with Afuera Coffee Co. to bring together his two loves: a strong morning brew and a dedication to conservation. With your purchase, you’ll not only enjoy waking up to the rich aroma of this bolder roast—you’ll be supporting the important work of preserving hunting and fishing opportunities for all.Learn More