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Westerners join forces to keep public lands in public hands

Meg Morris



“We need our elected officials to quit wasting time on these speculative, ideological proposals and instead take action on the common-sense, collaborative efforts under way all over the country to improve land management.” 
~ David Chadwick, Montana Wildlife Federation, Executive Director

"Hunting and fishing in New Mexico are not sports. They're a core cultural land-use value with a 10,000-year-old tradition. Cultural preservation in New Mexico is dependent upon access to vast, viable, public lands." 
~ Garrett VeneKlasen, New Mexico Wildlife Federation, Executive Director 

Westerners join forces to keep public lands in public hands

Throughout the West, state lawmakers have introduced bills or have proposals in the works to take over all or some of the national public lands within their boundaries. Some legislators are threatening to sue to claim the lands. Others are spending a lot of time and money to study the costs and benefits of assuming control of national public lands. 

Grassroots organizations and community activists, including hunters, anglers, wildlife advocates and outdoor recreationists, have launched a campaign to stand up for public lands. The National Wildlife Federation and its affiliates in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada are reaching out to lawmakers, the public and the media to make it clear that we want public lands to stay in public hands. The organizations are joining landowners, business people, community members and sportsmen and women to rally at state capitols, meet with lawmakers and share their personal stories about what public lands mean to them.

There is a rumble in the Rockies

The New Mexico Wildlife Federation  hosted the first rally in partnership with 18 other sportsmen organizations on Thursday January 29th. More than 250 hunters, anglers, horseback riders, mountain bikers, hikers, boaters and other outdoors enthusiasts gathered at the New Mexico state capitol and shook the rafters in support of public lands and opposition to efforts that aim to transfer those lands to the state.  New Mexico Wildlife Federation Executive Director Garrett VeneKlasen addressed the crowd, laying out the looming threats to public lands should these unpopular proposals move forward.

"The end game is simple. If enough western states support this absurd initiative, Congress could support a public lands sell-off. It's that simple. In a single generation, this precious American birthright we call public lands could become a thing of the past."


Images: Lew Carpenter

Idaho Wildlife Federation and sportsmen took over Boise.

Speaking at the February 12th rally Idaho Wildlife Federation Executive Director, Michael Gibson described sportsmen's biggest fears,

"What we're afraid of is that strain on the state budget is going to force the state to sell off our public lands."

Hundreds of Montanans took over the state capitol in Helena urging legislators to oppose takeover efforts.

'These lands are our heritage. These lands are our birthright. These lands are a big part of what makes us Montanans, define who and what we are...While these public lands define who we are and are central to our quality of life, these lands also belong to the entirety of our country.' ~ Mont. Gov. Steve Bullock



The Colorado Wildlife Federation and other sportsmen’s organizations gathered outside the state capitol

Cold and snow did not keep sportsmen organizations and supporters from gathering at Colorado's capitol to oppose proposed legislation to transfer public lands to the state. Kent Ingram President of the Colorado Wildlife Federation summed up the sentiment with a simple yet powerful statement:

"Not for sale. Not for transfer. Not for privatization."


The NWF affiliates, whose members represent a cross section of the region’s population, can provide personal stories about using public lands as well as their economic importance to small business owners. Many affiliate members are longtime hunters, anglers and wildlife watchers. Their ranks include wildlife biologists with years of experience in the field. 

Below are links to fact sheets, reports, websites and other materials that can help as you follow the public lands debate

Our public lands belong to all Americans. They make up the country’s “big backyard” and are cherished by people nationwide. Public lands help support a $646 billion outdoor recreation industry and sustain local economies across the region through hunting, fishing, recreation and tourism. They are habitat for some of the largest deer and elk herds in the nation and native trout whose genetics can be traced back centuries. We are concerned that if states took over national public lands they wouldn’t have the resources to manage them and some of the country’s best fish and wildlife habitat and greatest landscapes would be sold to the highest bidders. That’s why we’re fighting to keep public lands public.

Public Lands Take Over Fact Sheet

Recreational impacts of land sell-off state by state

New Mexico