"Editor's note: This post is part of an ongoing series on the importance of public lands to sportsmen and women. This is the first post in the series. Read the next: "Public Land Sellouts."
The idea of public lands transcends any price tag. It’s the foundation for a lot of us - how we became who we are - a collection of moments that pull together to make full lives - more full. As in lives worth living.
The assignment was to consider the value of public lands. Consider, illuminate, wax poetically, maybe even theorize about lands held in common. Consider. Value. And then tell a story.
That was the task at hand.
Held in a vacuum, it seemed an easy task. But in context - that being a political atmosphere zeroing in on selling off those very lands for...what? Minimal deficit reduction? Election year politics? Proof of sheer lunacy and eventual honorary residency in the Hall of Short-Sighted Thinkers?
In context of a constant barrage of headlines about selling off those public lands the job of telling that story got, shall we say, heated.
I will be frank in the fact it’s not the first time we’ve done this. We tell that story day in and day out, every day until we practically keel over from the sheer weight of such a worthy ideal. But we also try do something more powerful in this little nook of the world: We try to live up to it.
It seems awkward, inappropriate even to assign dollar figures to such things. These are public lands afterall.
It’s like this: Over the course of 238 years, great Americans have put aside places worth saving. Places that provide timber, affordable grazing for ranchers, oil and gas, coal, minerals and a host of other resources which benefit the American people. Places that not only give back fiscally in perpetuity through the big business that is outdoor recreation, but also fulfill us as a people.
Then, one day, without asking the hunters, anglers, outfitters, horsepackers, fishing guides, boat builders, rafters, gun shots, ranchers, wood cutters, wildlife watchers, general recreators and sportsmen who rely on these lands, someone makes a decision these lands were no longer needed.
And overnight, that someone turns into the anti-business, fun-hating neighborhood jackass.
We are a public connected to our lands and the numbers prove it out. In a recent poll of Montanans nearly two-thirds of participants rejected the idea of selling public lands even to reduce the federal deficit. In New Mexico, 89 percent of all sportsmen hunt or fish on public land. Recent participation surveys found hunting and angling on the rise, a reverse of a decade long downward trend. The most recent USFWS data shows fish and wildlife recreation brings in more than $120 billion (BILLION) to local economies. And that barely scratches the surface.
Perhaps more to the point, hunters and anglers have been beat up on a bit in recent decades. We’ve shouldered any number of losses, be it from politics or development or just the general change in the way we live. And we’ve taken it with relative grace.
But I think those days are numbered.
Put to this crowd of hunters and anglers, I expected stories about the catch, the hunt. I expected them to send me flowery paragraphs about the way the light glinted off the scales of a big brown, or the smell of the sage or the sound of the wind - paragraphs you will read as we post them over the next two weeks.
But what came back was much stronger than that. What came back was anger. Controlled, well-defined, and channeled anger, simmering quietly below the surface.
The takeaway? Seems pretty clear:
Were I a person in a position to mess with public lands, I don’t think this a group with whom I’d pick a fight.