EAGLE POST 10
Introduction: A bill now before Congress seeks to transfer millions of acres of National Forest to the states, a pit-stop on the road to privatization (link).
"Every American citizen is an equal owner of our public lands. Yet that birthright, so unique to our country, is being threatened by misguided individuals and legislative attacks from fringe interests that seek to seize, transfer or dispose of our federal public lands by promoting state ownership or, worse, selling our children's inheritance to the highest bidder for private financial gain."
That statement is from the website of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA), a volunteer organization leading the effort to stop the transfer of public lands. They are dedicated to the highest principles of sportsmanship, including "Fair Chase" (e.g., muscle-powered access, no drones), wildlife habitat preservation, and land and water access protection for the public.
We are fortunate to have David Lien, Chair of the Colorado BHA, explain more about the unsettled - and (surprisingly) somewhat hopeful - political landscape underlying the current situation.
Public Lands At Risk
By David Lien
Federal public lands - owned equally by all Americans - constitute about 28 percent, or approximately 650 million acres, of our nation's landmass.1 These public lands are part of what historian Frederick Turner called the "greatest gift ever bestowed on mankind."2 Without this vast public estate, hunting, fishing, hiking and camping would, at best, be reduced to commercial transactions, restricted only to those who can afford them.
Although it's easy to take our nation's great public lands legacy for granted, and hard to imagine it could be in jeopardy, public lands conservation has become an increasingly partisan issue during recent years. Regrettably, in July 2016 the platform panel of the Republican National Committee (RNC) endorsed an amendment promoting the transfer of public lands to individual states.3
While many sportsmen, myself included, wear the badge of Theodore Roosevelt Republicanism with honor and pride, the state of the current party - seemingly hijacked by radical elements - represents a very different set of values. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) has consistently criticized efforts by members of Congress to sell or transfer public lands and is calling for the new administration to squelch these efforts.4
It's also important to remember that the RNC's position is a dramatic departure from long-held traditions of the Republican Party which, more than a century ago, led the creation of the U.S. public lands system and a conservation paradigm that has managed land and wildlife resources since the early 1900s.5 In addition, numerous past presidents, from both parties, have been stalwart advocates of wildlands, wildlife and public lands.
They knew instinctively, as Gifford Pinchot (America's first Chief Forester, appointed by Teddy Roosevelt) said: "It's a greater thing to be a good citizen than to be a good Republican or a good Democrat." And in the wake of a presidential election characterized by unsettling conflict and vitriol, BHA President/CEO Land Tawney issued the following statement, saying (in part):6
"BHA stands for the public lands sportsman, for conservation of important lands and waters, for continued public access to our most valuable of resources. These values are not owned by any party, and they have historically been championed by leaders on both sides of the political aisle. Following an unprecedentedly contentious presidential election and many hard-fought congressional races... We are encouraged that president-elect Trump, along with some courageous House and Senate Republicans, have broken from their party on this issue."7
One of these rogue Republicans is U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (MT), who president-elect Trump has chosen to be his Interior Secretary. Zinke, a lifelong hunter and fisherman, calls himself a "Theodore Roosevelt Republican" who cares about conservation while also championing developing natural resources.8 Last summer, he quit his post as a member of the GOP platform-writing committee after the group included language that would have transferred federal land ownership to the states.9
Steven Rinella (author, hunter and host of the Sportsman Channel's Meateater) called the idea of land transfers "downright stupid." "Forfeiture of our federal public lands is another one of those ideas put forth by reckless politicians looking to make a short-term splash without any serious thought to the consequences of their actions," Rinella said. "This will lead to more gates, more industrial disturbance, and less wildlife."10
Unfortunately, we have an uphill climb to convince many legislators. As explained by Randy Newberg, host of Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg (on the Sportsman Channel): "Every bill in every state legislature, every bill in congress that has been floated around, that has been introduced to try to screw you out of your public lands, has an R beside it."11
Because the very future of public lands hunting and angling is at stake, sports-men and -women are following the lead of hunter-conservationists like Land, Steven and Randy. And we recognize the pressing need for more selfless people and politicians who can put aside partisan politics to focus on "the greatest good of the greatest number for the longest time," as Gifford Pinchot said.
Sports-men and -women, and all Americans, have a special stake in this fight, because America is one of a handful of developed western democracies where hunting and fishing are broadly accessible regardless of income. We've been granted a precious legacy of access to public lands and waters. It would be criminal to leave future generations of Americans anything less.12
For additional information see these two organizations: BHA - "Our Public Lands: Not For Sale" (link) and Sportsmen's Access (link).
About David Lien: David Lien is a former Air Force officer and current chairman of the Colorado BHA. In 2014 he was recognized as a Hero of Conservation by Field & Stream magazine.13
David grew up in a smalll town in northern Minnesota. He began fishing at 4 and hunting at 11, bringing down a deer at 12 with his grandfather's rifle (he is a life member of the MN Deer Hunters Association). He graduated from the University of Minnesota-Duluth with a political science BA and second lieutenant bars.
A world-class mountaineer, David has summited six of the Seven Summits (the highest points on each continent), and climbed above 25,000 feet on the north (Tibetan) side of Mt. Everest.
David has been a resident of Colorado for the past few decades. A celebrated writer who contributes often to a wide variety of national and Colorado publications, he has chronicled some of his adventures in the following books:
Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) is built on a foundation laid down by hunter-conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt and Aldo Leopold, men who understood that America's outdoor heritage depends upon healthy habitat, and we take the advice of Roosevelt, who said: "Preserve large tracts of wilderness... for the exercise of the skill of the hunter, whether or not he is a man of means."
1. Rachel Carley. Wilderness A to Z. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001, p. 254.
2. Michael P. Dombeck, Christopher A. Wood, Jack E. Williams. From Conquest To Conservation: Our Public Lands Legacy. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2003, p. 5.
3. Katie McKalip, BHA communications director. "Post-election, Congress wants to give away American lands." Hatch Magazine: 11/22/16.
4. Katie McKalip, BHA communications director. "Post-election, Congress wants to give away American lands." Hatch Magazine: 11/22/16.
5. Katie McKalip, BHA communications director. "Post-election, Congress wants to give away American lands." Hatch Magazine: 11/22/16.
6. Katie McKalip, BHA communications director. "Backcountry Hunters & Anglers' Statement on the U.S. Election Results." Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA): 11/9/16.
7. Katie McKalip, BHA communications director. "Post-election, Congress wants to give away American lands." Hatch Magazine: 11/22/16.
8. Ben Long, BHA board co-chair. "Ryan Zinke Named Secretary of the Interior." Outdoor Life: 12/15/16.
9. Juliet Eilperin. "Trump taps Montana congressman Ryan Zinke as Interior secretary." The Washington Post: 12/13/16.
10. Paul A. Smith. "Public lands too valuable to sell." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 9/21/16.
11. David Smith. "Who's Stealing Your Public Lands?" WideOpenSpaces.com: 9/7/16.
12. Paul A. Smith. "Public lands too valuable to sell." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: 9/21/16.
13. Click HERE for additional information ("David A. Lien Recognized by Field & Stream as 'Hero of Conservation.'" AmmoLand.com: 7/2/14.)
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