By Rebecca Brown
I love my home. I always have, and always will. I'm not talking about the house I live in, the street it's located on, or even the town. I'm talking about the state of Montana. It's such a magnificent place, with its diverse terrain and variety of weather. In a relatively short drive, you can go from flat plains to towering peaks; from grassland to forest; over rolling hills, across rushing rivers, alongside rocky mountain walls; it's an ever-changing, dynamic landscape, begging to be traveled.
I've lived here all my life, and will cherish this, my home, in my heart always.
If it weren't for the protection of public lands, my Montana might be a very different place. The vast majority of my memories and experiences have happened on public lands. I learned to hunt deer, migratory and upland birds on the grassy plains and foothills. I learned to fish in public reservoirs and lakes. I've spent my summers swimming and boating in public waters. My love for aquatic recreation inspired me to build my own cedar-strip canoe. I find tremendous enjoyment in hiking mountain trails, encountering the different foliage, watching animal life, listening to the trickle of small creeks running alongside, and finding beautiful waterfalls.
When I take time to slow down from my busy life and stop to look at the land around me, I'm filled with wonder, admiration, and peace. I feel a gratitude for all the experiences I've had, very few of which would've been possible without the abundance of public lands in Montana.
I know I am not the only person to have stories and memories like these. Many people from all over the United States use and enjoy public lands each day.
It is important to keep an abundance of public lands in this country. They provide places to learn, to explore, and to admire. People learn to truly appreciate nature and the many resources it offers.
The national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, monuments, and wilderness areas that make up the protected public lands of America must continue to be protected for future generations. They make up about 28 percent of United States land, and exemplify the true beauty of our nation.
Even though most people may think of public lands as recreational locations, they also offer valuable natural resources. These include fresh water, fish and game, and other wildlife.
Many sportsmen view these lands as simply that – sporting venues. People like my family, however, rely on these lands as a source of food – they are home to the fish and game we hunt for meat. We depend on the hunting season to provide us with meat for the rest of the year. If it weren't for the ability to harvest game on public lands, we would have to pay outrageous fees to access private lands, and we couldn't afford to hunt.
Public lands are key in helping with the conservation of our environment. In these areas, fresh water and clean air are abundant, and the plant life that thrives in them refreshes the earth's biosphere.
It is critical for these lands to be protected and conserved for generations to come. The future inhabitants of this nation deserve to have the same positive experiences I've had, to drink the fresh water, breathe the clean air, and take full advantage of the opportunities to use public lands without the huge personal investment into private ownership that so many of us cannot afford.
As I said before, I love my home. I love the fresh air and the wide open spaces. I've enjoyed learning to hunt, to fish, to swim, to canoe, to snowboard and waterski. I've had so very many amazing experiences and lessons, and they've all combined to give me a strong foundation for the rest of my life. I've learned skills and behaviors that will assist me in nearly anything I choose to do. The public lands of the United States need to be protected so other members of future generations can learn the same things I have, can have similar experiences and cherished memories. If these lands go unprotected, they could be bought up, locked up, and held ransom by corporations and the elite few that can afford private landholdings, and soon, citizens will have nowhere to go to hunt or to camp without having to spend large sums to do it.
If we don't take action to protect the public use and conservation of our lands and the natural resources they contain, the future will be a very different place from the home that has made me who I am.
Rebecca Brown, 17, of Conrad, Mont., is a high school senior and the oldest of three sisters. Her father is a schoolteacher and her mother drives the school bus. She is working on obtaining her pilot’s license. Rebecca enjoys hunting, fishing, boating, all types of water sports, snowboarding and hiking. She plans to study mechanical engineering at college in the fall.