Public lands were no accident

By Greg McReynolds


The effort to rob Americans of our public land birthright is well-funded and the threat is real. In the last two years, there have been dozens of bills in state legislatures and numerous attempts in congress to sell, transfer or otherwise degrade the places where the vast majority of us hunt and fish. These attacks pretend that Americans don’t value our National Forests and Parks or that National Forests were never meant to be.


The western lands held in trust for the American people were not cobbled together by accident.


Thomas Jefferson made a calculated decision in 1803 to buy the territory then called Louisiana from France. He spent $15 million U.S. tax-payer dollars to buy more than 800,000 square miles of the continent which started at the port of New Orleans and stretched north to include most of modern day Montana, Wyoming and Colorado. At the time there were only 17 states in the Union and Alabama, Maine and Michigan were all still territories.


Jefferson understood that he had asked much of the fledgling nation to commit $15 million and said after signing the agreement, “It is the case of a guardian, investing the money of his ward in purchasing an important adjacent territory and saying to him when of age, I did this for your good.”


Through treaties (Oregon Territory), wars (Mexican cession), and purchases (Gadsden, Alaska), Americans amassed the lands that now make up the western United States. We made many mistakes along the way, but one thing we got absolutely right was the founding of the public lands trust that belongs to all Americans.


These are the places where Americans can hunt and fish and camp and hike and ride horse and bikes. Tax-payers and businesses benefit from royalties that come from oil and gas, timber and other natural resources held in trust for future generations.


This is intentional and is a fundamentally American idea that is rooted in something bigger than state identities.



My love for Idaho is foundational to me. But it does not supercede my love of country. We are Americans first. In 1890 settlers of what was then Idaho territory clamored for statehood. The inhabitants of the territory were happy to give over claim to the unsettled lands in their boundaries to the lawful owners, American taxpayers. They looked beyond the verdant river bottoms of their homesteads to the high and dry uplands that make up much of the west's public lands and saw opportunity. They had the vision to see what a privilege it would be to join the United States of America and they understood what the benefits of representative government would mean for their businesses, for their families and for their children.


In the interest of joining the Union, Idaho, like the other western states before and after it signed an enabling act that included the line, “That the people inhabiting said proposed States do agree and declare that they forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries thereof…”


To say that states or individuals are somehow entitled to our American public lands is dishonest. To refute state constitutions and disavow our country’s rightful laws is unpatriotic. To take an armed stand on the lands owned by all Americans in an attempt to take back something you never owned - that’s theft and insurrection.


In 1890, to gain statehood was a chance to join a great nation and  especially considering that as citizens, the lands are now the birthright of our children and theirs. If those who wish to sell our public lands don’t believe that it is a privilege to be a part of the United States of America, the least they could do is clear off our land.


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