In September, TU will be feeding you a heavy dose of stories about public lands. From the Golden Trout wilderness in California to the Green Mountains of Vermont, public lands are hugely important to wild and native fish. In most Western states, public lands comprise more than 70 percent of the available habitat for trout, and virtually all of the strongholds for native trout.
My father is the sixth generation of our family to grow up in Newark, NJ. Growing up, the closest public land we had was a local county park called Tuers, where I shot countless hours of hoop. Except for visiting family in Ireland, I didn’t leave the Garden State until college in Vermont, and there discovered the Green Mountain National Forest. I spent many hours in that forest catching native brook trout.
After graduation I took a long, slow trip across the country with my dog, Gus, and a big box filled with Dinty Moore beef stew. Gus and I walked the Natchez Trace in Mississippi. We hiked the Smokies in Tennessee. We took pictures of fields of Black-eyed Susans in the Shenandoah. Swam in hot springs in Idaho and clamored over red rocks in Utah. Camped among the aspen in Colorado. Hiked old growth forests in Oregon, marveled at the coastal redwoods of California.
All those places share one thing. They are public lands that belong to us all. For now. In recent years, more than 50 short-sighted bills have been introduced in state legislatures to transfer, sell, or otherwise take away your birthright—the public lands that are managed for us by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Not to be outdone, Congress has entertained similar proposals. Presidential candidates have campaigned on the issue. As much as we’d all like to think “that can’t happen,” the fact is that there are well-heeled special interests dedicated to seeing that it does.
Those who seek this so called “transfer”—county supremacists, sagebrush rebels and their contemporary cicadian progeny—neglect an important fact. At no time did the Western federally managed public lands belong to the states. They were either ceded to the Union by Eastern states or acquired through treaty, conquest or purchase by the federal government acting on behalf of the citizens of the United States.
Public lands are the best idea America ever had. For those of us who want to fish and hunt, camp and hike without having to beg or buy permission, they are a godsend. The ham-handed dialogue about transferring or divesting public lands that drives the debate today is unhelpful and unproductive. To suggest that our land legacy—a legacy that a kid from New Jersey shares with a rancher in New Mexico—should be transferred or sold for a pittance is extreme and offensive.
For the next 30 days, tune into TU for a steady diet of stores about why public lands matter. Share the stories, video, and photos with your friends. Raise your voice and let your member of Congress and elected leaders in your state know that the public lands are a birthright that belongs to all of us, and we are not willing sellers.