"Editor's note: This post is part of an ongoing series on the importance of public lands to sportsmen and women. Read the next: "These are public waters."
By Greg McReynolds
“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.”
Theodore Roosevelt, August 31, 1910
I love this place. It defines me.
Without Idaho, I would be untethered from the world, at a loss for a sense of place. I have lived in the West most of my adult life. Yet still, I am awed by what we as Americans collectively own.
There are days when I should be casting. But instead my fly rod is strung, hanging at my side while I simply stare at this place.
These rolling hills of golden grass, rocky peaks where mule deer bed and the thick green riparian belts that border unknown trout haunts are my places. They capture my imagination and fill my heart. Having lived in Texas and in England gives me a level of appreciation for public land that some take for granted. I know how precious our public lands are. I know what it is like to live without them. I have been places where hunting and fishing is the domain of the rich and privileged and even the freedom to wander afoot is restricted.
Texas is filled with good people, great music and the finest barbecue anywhere on the planet. But it is also a place of high fences, “No trespassing” signs and $5,000 deer leases. Luckily, for the cost of a few tanks of gas or an airline ticket, anyone in the country has a free pass to one of the greatest gifts ever given, America’s public lands.
Public lands are the symbol of the things we as a nation have managed to get right. We are a nation of explorers and adventurers. We believe in freedom and we deserve it. We need these vast public spaces to find ourselves, to journey and to test ourselves. We need these places not just as people or westerners or sportsmen, we need them as Americans. We have pioneered from the edges of space to the depths of the ocean, just as our ancestors pushed across this vast continent. The men and women who pioneered these lands, farmed and ranched and hunted and bled and died for them knew their value.
In 1835 - at the beginning of Texas’s revolt against Mexico - a group of settlers in Gonzales, Texas stood down trained soldiers in defense of their town and their land. Faced with 140 Mexican troops coming to take back a cannon issued to them by the Mexican Government for defense against the Comanche, the townspeople of Gonzales hung a flag with a crude drawing of the cannon, a star and the phrase “Come and Take it.”
They stood behind it, ready to fight for what they had earned with the sweat and blood of settlement in a hard place. The troops left without the cannon.
The people of Gonzales stood for their lands. They refused to wither before a force bent on taking what they and their ancestors had earned.
There are those who are short-sighted enough not to see the inherent value of lands that bring in dollars from multiple sources and will continue to do so forever, if they are held in trust as our forefathers intended.
There are those so wealthy that their right to hunt and fish and to roam uninhibited on a big landscape is not in jeopardy. They can afford big ranches. They can buy the right to hunt and fish. Some of them are pushing to sell our American lands hoping to buy the choicest pieces of our birthright - should they be allowed to butcher it.
And maybe that is what some of them have in mind, huge patches of lands where Americans can currently hunt and fish and hike and camp like the free people that we are, reserved for the aristocracy that they wish to be. They have money, they have power and now they want exclusivity when it comes to land, hunting and fishing.
Growing up in Texas taught me what it means to have limited opportunity to hunt and fish. It taught me what miles of barbed wire fence and “No Trespassing” signs look like. It taught me what it’s like to slide into the cab of a pickup at 16 years old and drive 14 hours straight to a patch of public land in New Mexico, where I would camp in the desert, hunt and fish and feel as free as any person ever has.
Living in England showed me how Texas, devoid of public land, has devolved into something eerily similar to England, whose hunting tradition is shaped by the tradition of land and wildlife that belongs only to the king. Without access to our lands, how will we hunt? How will we fish? Will it be like the chalk streams of Northern England where clubs and guides restrict access to those unwilling to pay for it? Will it be like the Moors of Scotland, where a day of upland hunting can cost thousands of dollars? Will it be like south Texas, where a lease to hunt whitetails can cost as much as a used car?
There are always those who will try to take what is not theirs. There are those who would try to take our freedom to fish and hunt.
There are people, in congress and in other places, those who look at our public lands and see nothing but an asset to be sold, a prize to be won. They don’t have to worry where their children will go to feel the freedom of big wild places.
It is not the first time that an entitled class of people has tried to take what is ours and our children’s for their own purposes.
Sportsmen rely on public lands. These are our places, earned with the blood and sweat of Americans and looked after by generations of sportsmen.
To those of you who think you can take my public lands, who think you can steal the American birthright of my children and their children, to you few who would sell the mountains and the rivers where anyone can hunt and fish to the new robber barons and the multinational corporations. To you corporate puppets who would give away Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy to the Chinese so they can mine it, drill it and put no trespassing signs on it and to the selfish minority who dream of buying public lands so you can lock out everyone else, hear this:
Sportsmen don’t have a flag, but these lands are our cannon and we are an army.
Come and take it.