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In Defense of Our Public Lands: Voices From the Backcountry

By: 
Meg Morris,

Public lands are not just an idea.  
They are not simply carved out partitions of space.
They are millions of acres of sprawling lands.
They are home to fish and wildlife from elk, to bighorn sheep, to native trout.
They are the places where people and nature converge.
Here are stories born from time spent in the wild lands that belong to us all.

Why stay on the trail? 
~ Reg Rothwell

 

The dog and I took a walk one fine mid-summer day last year – one of my weekly strolls through the mountains.  We rose in the dark, early morning hours and, after a short drive, set off from the trailhead at dawn.  But first we had to wait for two young bull moose to amble through the parking lot and up a hill nearby.  We walked that day for 6 hours without crossing a road or worrying about whose land we might be on; we were on our land – yours and mine. 

We weren’t sure where specifically we were going, the dog less concerned about that than me.  

I knew the general direction of travel – a great arc around a small mountain, past some familiar jewel-like lakes and across rolling meadows on the way to a saddle on the mountain’s far side.  Then, a broad swing down and to the west through the forests and back to the car. 

The decision was made to not even follow trails. 

It’s more interesting to poke along through spruce stands near timberline that seldom see a human and across fields of wild flowers riddled with mounds of soil freshly tilled by pocket gophers.   The wind was light, the sun warm and pleasant, and the air was full of scents buoyed by rising moisture from a light shower the evening before.

Along the way, we crossed elk trails used so recently that one could imagine that the animals laying down those tracks might be just around the next hillock.  Mid-morning, a pine marten bounded off a ways through the sun-dappled understory of a small grove of trees we were just entering and disappeared into the shadows.  And later, as we crossed around the lower flank of the mountain, we caught a glimpse of a couple of mule deer bucks sky-lined as they slipped away from a nearby sentinel rocky knob where they had been bedded. 

At least I saw all of this – the dog was too focused on the cacophony of scents overwhelming his poor nose at every step.  As we churned through the miles that day, I am sure he put four or five times as many on his paws as I did on my feet.  He, as always, stayed near, but had so much new ground to explore.

In the closing miles, he stayed closer to me, tired now from dashing over there to check that new thing out, then in the other direction to savor yet another fresh scent.  As we neared the car, we gained the trail and passed a couple of other people, exchanging pleasantries.  The afternoon sun was in our eyes and baking the dusty path. 

My mind drifted to thoughts of how fortunate I am to have this and so much more country like it near enough to trip through something new each week.  As we climbed into the car, tired and sweaty, the dog turned in the passenger seat and looked at me with those big brown eyes as if to say, “That was awesome!”            

Reg Rothwell, Wyoming Wildlife Federation

 

Lands Where Memories Live 
~ By Kent Ingram

The year was 1971, hunting with my late parents Wendel and Inez Ingram.  

I was a lot younger then, in college at Western State. This day in early November dad and mom, then in their 50s, were hunting public land lower elevation sage on a knob bordered by small fingers of pine.  Against all odds at high noon this day a major league 6 point bull elk came out running across the sage, pushed out of a drainage away by other hunters I am sure.

Dad was always a good shot but this was about 250 yards, and that bull was on a dead run.  

Dad ended up shooting off one tip of an antler (I later found it by accident) then finally shot the bull in the spine. Mom then walked down to the bull and finished the animal.  She always said it was her bull.  Hunting is like that, and credit was due both.

In camp true to form, dad did not know how many points the bull had, simply acknowledging it was "a good bull".   The next day I and some buddies accompanied dad back to the bull, bottom of the draw, and were shocked to see what a great bull it was.  We quartered the bull, and with 5 or 6 of us packed out the bull.  It took two of us to even carry out the cape, head and antlers.   A decade later at the Denver International Sportsman Show that bull with a 60" wide spread won 1st place in the rocky mountain elk taxidermy competition.

Dad died in 1997. 

I still hunt in and around that drainage.  Misty eyed I am thinking back to all the memories in this basin, on public lands.  This place is also where I choose to hunt as long as I can hunt elk.   Walking in pre-dawn, I can still easily envision all the memories and great hunts over the years.    

To me the place is so special that when my time is done my ashes will be spread over that basin.    Those public lands in the Gunnison basin, hunting with dad and mom are a part of why I am in wildlife advocacy all these years and fighting to protect public lands.  

Public lands are a national treasure owned by all Americans, and absolutely not for sale, or transfer.   They also are not something for politicians to subtly insert into a national budget for sale as a funding source for deficit reduction.    

I owe that to Teddy Roosevelt and my late dad and mom.  

 

Kent Ingram, Board Chair, Colorado Wildlife Federation

 

Shaped by the land.
~ By Rod Torrez

I pretty much grew up on public lands.

Born in Williams, Arizona, I was surrounded by the Kaibab National Forest, so no matter which direction I went, I’d eventually end up on the Kaibab. Black bear, and bobcat weren’t uncommon sights, and everybody hunted mule deer and elk, and fished as well. Thus, in my earliest years, I grew up with the idea that everybody lived at least in part off the land and made carne seca out of venison. When we moved to Denver, my family continued to love the outdoors. On weekends we would  often and spontaneously end up on some back road in the Rockies; it was adventurous and I likely learned more about how the planet works out in the woods and along the streams than I ever did in school. Those happy memories would eventually compel me to fight wildfire one summer in college, and then every summer until I landed a career on public lands.  

They have shaped who I am, and now I live to fight political fires on behalf of those lands that give us healthy waters, clean air, serenity and adventure.

Everybody should be fighting for them.

They are our common treasure.

~ Rod Torrez, Director Hecho

 

Casting on pavement 
~ By Corinne Doctor

I didn’t always fly fish.

I grew up very connected to the outdoors, but being outside didn’t mean a chance to drop a fly in the water until about 9 years ago.  

When I was starting out I practiced my cast on a few ponds, just to get used to the motion.  I casted on the street, again, just so that I felt more comfortable.  After a few runs on the fly fishing bunny hill I finally made the transition to a real, rushing river on a piece of Colorado’s public land.  I walked along the bank,  looking for the perfect spot.  I stepped from rock to rock to get into position.  I geared up for the first cast, just as I had perfected in my neighborhood.  I pulled out some line, checked my knots one more time and knew it was time.  On that first cast I immediately caught the bush behind me. After undoing the tangle and a few more tries I got the fly in the water.  As I got more comfortable with my surroundings and more flies in the water I started to get fish to the net.  

For me and many other fisherman there are few things in this world as mesmerizing and beautiful as unhooking a trout and watching it swim back to the depths for its next dance.

Our public lands are an essential part of our identity as a country and our legacy because for me and the millions of other sportsmen and women casting on a sidewalk just doesn’t hold a candle to the real thing.


~ Corinne Doctor, Owner RepYouWater