It was standing room only in the Montana statehouse lobby when people spoke out for public lands. Image: Dave Chadwick
By Judith Kohler
The rumble heard in late January when hundreds of people crowded into the New Mexico statehouse to demand that public lands stay in public hands has only grown louder and deeper, spreading throughout the Rocky Mountain West.
Sportsmen and women have joined with hikers, mountain bikers, horseback riders, paddlers, wildlife watchers and others to take their fight for American public lands to the steps or lobbies of statehouses from Santa Fe to Carson City. They are meeting one-on-one with legislators, writing letters to the editor and talking to the media.
Hunting and angling groups have spearhead many of the activities, but the diversity of people working to preserve our outdoor heritage is as broad as the support is for ensuring our national public lands stay public.
Which is good because the battle continues. State and federal lawmakers are busy proposing bills to give states control over public lands and undermine landmark conservation programs and laws that have helped build healthy fish and wildlife populations and ensured public access to some of our greatest landscapes. They persist despite seemingly impossible fiscal and constitutional hurdles and overwhelming public support for keeping our public lands as is.
Public lands supporters packed New Mexico's `Roundhouse' to say `Keep your hands off our public lands!' Image: Lew Carpenter
IN NEW MEXICO, hundreds of people poured into the Capitol, also known as the Roundhouse, on Jan. 29 to say loudly “Keep your hands off my public lands!” The New Mexico Wildlife Federation and other sportsmen’s organizations organized the rally that drew hundreds. NMWF Executive Director Garrett VeneKlasen warned:
“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.”
Following the huge turnout at the rally and calls from sportsmen and women, the state House Judiciary Committee tabled HB291, which would have authorized a study to explore a state takeover of millions of acres of national public lands. New Mexico sportsmen are fighting legislation that would restrict the public’s access to some streams.
A coalition of Wyoming sportsmen hosted a legislative reception attended by more than 100 people. Image: Judith Kohler
WYOMING sportsmen and women hosted a legislative reception Feb. 5 that highlighted the importance of public lands to the state’s economy, tourism and maintaining the state’s world-class fish and wildlife populations. More than 100 people were on hand as Gov. Matt Mead praised the work by hunters and anglers.
“We consider the wildlife and open spaces and quality of life we have in Wyoming unique and a treasure. Thank you for keeping all of that for us and future generations,” Mead said.
One bill aimed at transferring national public lands to the state failed but another authorizing a report on state management of national public lands passed. The Wyoming Wildlife Federation and other organizations are urging the governor to veto it. WWF Executive Director Steve Kilpatrick says the Wyoming Sportsmen Alliance, which opposes the bill, represents about 50,000 hunters and anglers across the state.
“One of the main reasons that I moved to Wyoming 37 years ago was because of the wide open spaces and public lands. I want to maintain public lands. I feel that it is very important for us Wyomingites and the nation and also for our next generation and the generation after that to have that ability to go and recreate on public lands. And the public lands aren’t just for Wyoming. They’re for all 50 states.” ~ Steve Martin, Rock Springs, Bowhunters of Wyoming president.
IDAHO SPORTSMEN/WOMEN and other outdoor enthusiasts set up an elk camp on the grounds of the state Capitol in Boise and lined the statehouse steps Feb. 12 to speak against legislation that would form a committee to look into the state taking control of federally managed lands, including national forests where people hunt, fish, hike and camp. The fear is the public will lose access to areas they have enjoyed for generations and the fiscal burden of assuming control of millions of acres will force the state to get rid of much of the land.
“What we’re afraid of is that strain on the state budget is going to force the state to sell off our public lands,” said Michael Gibson, Idaho Wildlife Federation executive director.
IWF President Rob Fraser said:
“Idaho sportsmen showed up at the Capitol in force recently to let legislators know that we want to keep public lands in public hands. Additionally, a recent poll showed that 64 percent of Idaho voters agree that national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands, parks and wildlife refuges in Idaho belong to all Americans.”
Idaho lawmakers are considering a bill to study taking over national public lands. Image: Michael Gibson
MONTANA Gov. Steve Bullock joined hundreds of sign-waving Montana residents, who crowded into the state Capitol’s lobby and leaned over the rails of the upper floors for a Feb. 16 rally in support of public lands.
“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,” Bullock said. “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.”
The Montana Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation and several other sportsmen’s and conservation groups have helped defeat bills targeting public lands and have other legislation in their sights. One bill would create a task force to study the feasibility of the state’s assuming management of lands now managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
“Montanans rely on our public lands for hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor recreation. Communities around the state also depend on the jobs these activities create for our $6 billion/year outdoor recreation economy. We want our elected officials to protect and manage these lands for future generations, not hold frivolous philosophical debates.” ~ Dave Chadwick, MWF executive director.
Colorado Wildlife Federation President Kent Ingram speaks to more than 100 people who braved snow and cold at the Colorado Capitol. Image: Judith Kohler
IN COLORADO, hikers, wildlife advocates and rafters joined sportsmen and women in the cold and snow Feb. 25 on the west steps of the state Capitol to make clear that they have no intention of allowing the state to lay claim to national public lands. Several organizations, including hunting and angling groups, oppose a bill that would attempt to give the state concurrent jurisdiction over federally managed lands. Business owners, veterans and state Sen. Kerry Donovan were among the speakers at the rally.
“The economy depends on small businesses like mine and my small business depends on people being out in the backcountry hunting and fishing. Our public lands are not for sale because 6.1 million jobs, three of which are created by my Colorado apparel business, rely on the public having access to their land,” said Corrine Doctor, a seventh-generation Coloradan, school teacher business owner and fly fisher.
Kent Ingram, Colorado Wildlife Federation president, said he does all his hunting and fishing on public lands.
“Public lands are 100 percent essential to Colorado recreation of all kinds and should never be surrendered to the political whims of state politics and special interests,” Ingram said.
Protesters rally against a Nevada legislative resolution that would ask Congress to turn over the title to national public lands. Image:Kurt Kuznicki
IN NEVADA, where federal agencies manage roughly 82 percent of the land, a coalition of sportsmen’s and wildlife groups representing thousands of hunters and anglers, oppose a legislative resolution that asks Congress to transfer the title to land overseen by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land management to the state. Protesters gathered outside a legislative building in Carson City March 2 before a hearing on the resolution.
Sportsmen, women and outdoor enthusiasts believe much of the public land used by generations of Nevadans would end up in private hands because the state wouldn’t have the resources to manage the land. They say a state economic analysis showing otherwise is flawed and note that Nevada has only 3,000 acres of state trust lands. Nevada received 4 million acres upon statehood, swapped those lands for a little more than 2 million acres of what it saw as choicer real estate – and then sold most of that.
“Nevada hunters, anglers and trappers depend heavily on our public lands. They’re important to many people’s livelihoods and to our way of life,” said Larry Johnson, the Coalition for Nevada’s Wildlife president.
“The state couldn’t afford to manage all the land now managed by federal agencies. The upshot would be that some of our best fishing and hunting areas would be sold into private hands, cutting off sporting opportunities and hampering wildlife management,” Johnson added.